Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

Is South Carolina’s Nikki Haley in Trouble?

Haley is vulnerable in her re-election campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Haley will seek re-election in 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If you listen to South Carolina Democrats, you are pretty certain that Republican Gov. Nikki R. Haley is in deep trouble next year. Not so, says Haley’s top strategist, Jon Lerner, arguing she is very likely to win re-election. Both assessments can’t be correct, can they?

“Despite bringing in 3 big-name out-of-state governors to help her build a crowd, Nikki Haley barely turned out more supporters than protesters for her big re-election announcement in deep-red Greenville County yesterday,” wrote South Carolina Democratic Party Communications Director Kristin Sosanie just after Haley announced her bid for a second term last month.

The Democratic state party’s press release went on to describe Haley’s crowd as “anemic” and to list her “failures,” including “making South Carolina one of the hardest places to earn a living” and “hiding a TB outbreak at a public school.” The release also noted that state “tax information was hacked and stolen” under Haley’s watch.

In a lengthy memo dated a few days before the Democratic press release, GOP consultant Lerner cited a number of reasons Haley is “likely to win the 2014 election comfortably.” Among other things, he noted her stronger financial position than in 2010, a unified Republican Party and her accomplishments and incumbency.

Haley, 41, will almost certainly face the same opponent she beat last time, Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, 42.

In 2010, she won by just 4.5 points (51.4 percent to 46.9 percent). Democrats note the narrow margin, while Republicans argue that Haley had to overcome many disadvantages to get elected as the state’s first female and first minority governor.

Lerner actually argues in his memo that the ’10 race was “not close.” He cites nine gubernatorial contests that were closer that year and points out that Barack Obama’s margin in the 2012 presidential race was closer than Haley’s was in her first race.

That’s true, of course, but all of the other close gubernatorial races that Lerner cites occurred in Democratic states or competitive ones. The huge anti-Obama wave of 2010 helped Republicans get close or win narrowly in difficult states, and all things being equal, it should have helped Haley in reliably Republican South Carolina. But of course, all things weren’t equal in the state at the time, given then-Gov. Mark Sanford’s problems, which could have muted the national wave.

But in other ways, Lerner’s argument is stronger and difficult to dismiss. Haley will have better funding and the state Chamber of Commerce will not be against her this time, as it was in 2010 when it endorsed Sheheen. And while 2014 isn’t likely to be as good a year nationally for her party as 2010 was, a second midterm election with Obama in the White House should still favor the GOP.

State Republicans surely will seek to tie Sheheen to the president’s positions and policies on issues such as health care, guns and even immigration, and, as one Democrat joked, they will label him a “liberal, job-killing, pro-Obama trial lawyer.”

But Haley’s efforts to force recorded votes in the legislature — something that was rarely done until it was instituted early in her governorship — should give the Republican’s campaign more ammunition against the challenger. And a fight between the National Labor Relations Board and Boeing over the company’s actions in its Charleston plant will be an asset for Haley.

Of course, Haley now has a record as governor that Democrats can pick at, including an unemployment rate that is lower than when she took office but is still at about 8 percent. And while Republicans see her race and gender as things she needed to overcome in 2010, Democrats believe that they were assets for her last time around.

“She is a very good candidate,” admitted one Democrat, “but her ethnicity and gender worked for her. She was something of a novelty last time, and she drew sympathy as a ‘wronged woman’ when nasty accusations surfaced about her private life.”

But if Sheheen is going to upset Haley, he’ll need to tap (or, possibly, even create) the sense that Republicans have been in complete power in the state for too long. “They are arrogant and are mailing it in” is the way one Democrat put it.

Early public polling suggests a competitive race. An April 2013 Winthrop University poll found the governor’s job rating at 45 percent approve/39 percent disapprove among registered voters, and a December 2012 survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Sheheen leading Haley by a statistically insignificant 2 points, 46 percent to 44 percent.

But early polling can be deceptive. President Obama drew 44 percent and 45 percent in his two presidential races, and Sheheen drew almost 47 percent in 2010. So a capable Democrat running a competitive race should get at least in the mid-40s. But Republicans go further. They insist that public polls simply are wrong.

The problem for any Democrat running statewide is getting well above the party’s base, with each additional percentage dramatically more difficult to attract than the previous percentage.

As one Republican commented, “Structurally, because of the large black vote and the Democratic base, it’s hard for a Republican to get great ratings [as Republicans do in places in Wyoming or Utah].”

So where does the race start? Haley certainly deserves to be favored, and she may well win “comfortably.” But at this point, the race looks competitive and is worth watching. Still, Democrats shouldn’t kid themselves about Sheheen’s prospects. He definitely starts as an underdog.

  • ajr86

    The Democrat brand is toxic in South Carolina, where Obama lost by double digits. Haley will win reelection easily.

  • Ted77

    The RNC and Nikki Haley are the toxic political brand that people are getting turned off to. The slim margin with which Haley won the election will be a lot tougher this time. South Carolina might surprise the GOP but is defiantly going to be in the blue column within the next 3 election cycles.

    • mabramso

      Anything is possible, but this is a state with a single Democrat House member, and 5 or 6 GOP House members in pretty safe, uncompetitive districts. That tells you something about the demographics of the state. It would take a wave of epic proportions and against all historical trends. Haley will probably win unless there is some type of scandal.

      • SCVoter

        Scandals by her have been abundant in her term.

        What type of scandal do you believe will do it?

  • andrewp111

    You can’t go by the size of crowds at rallies. Many of Obama’s crowds were small in 2012, but he still won handily. What matters is turnout on election day, and he had the machine to ensure that turnout took place.

    • tpaine1

      You mean he had the “dead voters” to win the election?? Ever hear of Ballot Box 13?? How about those 56 Philly precincts with ZERO GOP votes?? And six of them with 110% of the population voting!!

      • Gary D. Vaughn

        You still believe that?Amazing.

        • tpaine1

          Yeah, I know. Facts are HARD THINGS.
          PS The “Philly Fraud” is still QUITE current. Google it up.

          • BigTBone

            The only ones dumb enough to believe in voter fraud are the scumbags perpetrating it. There’s a laundry list of repuke voting problems that have been revealed. Facts are like kryptonite to cons who live in the bubble.

            You realize SLED in SC found NOTHING? However, they could have been searching in between your ears.

    • mwlvl

      Her rally was at the Bilo center. How appropriate. Bilo just got bought out and thoses jobs are going to Florida. Good job Nikki !!!

  • jubalbiggs

    I’m willing to go way out on a limb here and predict that a Republican incumbent governor in a year that will be quite bad for Dems, with most key issue areas trending away from the Democrat Party will win in South Carolina. I think this entire story is the result of progressives getting Palin Derangement Disorder every time ANY female starts to look too prominent on the other side. They just can’t stop freaking out about her sex, like someone with epilepsy triggered by flashing lights. They see a woman GOPer in a high position and just start to foam at the mouth.

    • AnthonyLook

      You are painstakingly funny with your spin and projection. Though I love the Palin Derangement Disorder; it if anything actually offers a diagnosis.

  • Peps at

    What is truly annoying is that silly prognostications by people like Sosanie get headlines when released, and when those turn out to be utter dross —- just like the promises and predictions of the Democratic strategists in 2010 —- there is no consequence. When Haley wins re-election (which she will: it’s South Carolina, for goodness sake,and the Democrats’ best attack is to blame her for TB?) Sosanie will lose no respect within her circles. She, just like those who made fools of themselves in the last off-year election, will pop reliably back up in 2016, and ’18, and ’20, lauded and solemnly quoted as political experts.

  • tpaine1

    Yeah, and I hear McConnell is in trouble in Kentucky too (yahahahahahahaha)!!

    • aeduran

      And yet he’s still going to win too (yahahahahahahaha)!!

  • phillyfanatic

    Writers and pollsters seem hell bent on trying to kill off any Pub because of the huge issue deficit this year between Dems and Pubs or at least conservs and liberals. So attack Nikki; attack any Pub in NC, attack any Pub in La., attack any Pub in Maine like La Page. After all, the MSM has to keep propping up as many radical socialist Quisling Dems so His Highness and Her Highness in 2016 can trample on more Const. liberties and issue more EX. Orders killing free enterprise, the Const rights such as the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 10th Amendments. No wonder Americans hate the MSM and its adherents.

    • BigTBone

      My dog barfed up something that resembled your post yesterday.

      Not a lick of reality in it. Tell me where you get your LSD?

  • Rob_Chapman

    The people writing about toxic branding clearly do not follow politics.

    How can a party that is toxic get 47% of a statewide vote?

    When one considers that Republicans in the Gulf Squadron and the red states of the mountain region get statewide pluralities in the sixties, one can almost believe Haley is a toxic brand.

    Almost, one must suspend belief in political reality to believe that Sheheen will significantly improve his polling against a scandal free and competent incumbent Governor.

    One has to expect that in the absence of an utterly unexpected adverse event, Haley will coast to re-election, but NOT with the sort of numbers her GOP brethren in other solidly red states will rack up.

    • mwlvl

      Most people in SC don’t like Nikki. She only won election by 4 points in a very RED state. She has only lost support since then.

      • Rob_Chapman

        The next Governor of SC will be unpopular then.

        It is unlikely the GOP will vote to unseat a successful, if lackluster incumbent republican Governor.

        If the Dem wins, “most people in SC,” won’t like him either.

        It is tough to govern during a recession. It is doubly tough when the dominant party of the state supports policies that created and prolong the recession.

        • BigB1

          Like the old saying goes ” you can’t fix stupid “

    • BigTBone

      Scandal free and competent? You’re on crack, robby.

      The uneducated rubes of this state won’t vote for even the best candidate- if they have a (d) next to their name. See what happened when adulterer sanford got elected vs. a far superior personality who had major private sector business chops?

      Vince should switch to independent and he’d bolster his numbers by 2 points.

  • mwlvl

    Any one who lives in SC knows that she has been an utter failure since she took office!

    • aeduran

      And anyone who lives in the U.S.A. knows Obama has been as well, but that sure as hell didn’t stop him from getting re-elected now, did it?

      • BigTBone

        Shhhh, grown ups are talking about the SC failure known as nimrata, don’t deflect to something completely unrelated.

        I hope this hag goes down in flames.

      • Ronald Jackson

        Agreed, but it was Romney’s loss, not Obama’s win. Romney was running against an upopular black man in a poor economy, and still lost. Hardly a ringing endorsement of Obama’s “electability”.

  • pollyann003

    all republicans are going to face obamcare trouble in 2014, eat it mothers

    • aeduran

      Not if the democrats face it first, which they will! So eat that daddys.

  • Darian G. Burns

    “Won just by 4.5%”? That is a pretty solid win in today’s politics.

  • townsendjean

    It´s disconcerting the number of GOP women who turn a blind eye to the GOP´s extremist assault on women.

    GOP congresswoman McMorris Rodgers for example voted against the Fair Pay Act insisting that women do get paid equally, and sees no problem with overturning roe vs wade taking away a woman´s right to choose or dismantling planned parenthood entirely, supports the personhood law essentially abolishing abortion entirely, and banning the pill through constitutional amendment.

  • doodlebug0

    What about the “other woman” charges and postponed hearing? This woman wouldn’t sign an affidavit saying she didn’t have a one-night stand. Oh well, repugs/baggers like this type of moral character.

  • Carmelo Junior

    Well, it looks now that her reelection is pretty much in the bag. The question is by how much she wins? By 5 or by 10?

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