While national Republicans are busy advancing state Rep. Nikki Haley’s bid for governor of South Carolina, much of the state GOP establishment is working furiously to torpedo her chances in the June 22 runoff.
Gresham Barrett, the GOP congressman backed by a high-priced team of veteran consultants, has launched a two-week, take-no-prisoners assault to defeat her. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who came in a distant fourth in the Republican primary, has endorsed Barrett. So has the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. And some of her statehouse colleagues, after eight tumultuous years of Gov. Mark Sanford, are determined to stop Haley — a Sanford protégé — from taking the top job.
It’s an unusual spectacle: a rare instance in which state and national GOP interests are utterly divergent and at odds.
National Republicans — including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republican Governors Association — have pushed hard for Haley, pointing to her as a rising star, a potential leader in a party that’s long struggled to bring diversity into its ranks.
Both Palin and Romney endorsed her during the primary, and Romney will campaign for her again on Friday. The RGA — which claimed on primary election night that voters made a “clear choice in Nikki Haley” in spite of the looming runoff — has assisted with money and messaging. Prominent national conservative voices have jumped in to defend her. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer, a leading social conservative, have condemned Barrett’s campaign for advancing stories suggesting Haley is not a true Christian and still attends Sikh services, as do her Indian-American parents. Bauer has even called for Barrett to fire the campaign consultant responsible.