S.C. Gov. Haley endorses Romney

Gov. Nikki Haley has endorsed Mitt Romney for president and will campaign with him in South Carolina this weekend.

“He is a conservative businessman who has spent his life working in the economy, and he understands exactly how jobs are created,” Haley said in a news release from Romney’s campaign.

In a none-too-veiled slap at Romney’s chief GOP rival, former House Speaker Next Gingrich, Haley added, “He is not a creature of Washington, and he knows what it means to make decisions – real decisions – not simply cast a vote.”

Gov. Nikki Haley rose to power on the wave of Tea Party support across South Carolina, defeating a pair of establishment Republicans in the process and catapulting herself on the national stage. But in endorsing Romney, Haley has sided with the Republican field’s most established candidate.

Romney and Haley have endorsed each other before. Romney was one of the first to endorse Haley during her run for governor. And Haley, as a state legislator, endorsed Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In an interview with The State newspaper on Thursday, Haley said she felt no obligation to back Romney or anyone else because of past dealings or donations. Romney has given generously to Haley and other S.C. Republicans in the past. He also appeared on the campaign trail with Haley last year as she sought to be elected governor.

Instead, Haley said she was looking for the candidate who best understood the challenges states face and could best help governors make their states better.

“The way I'm approaching it is, 'What do I want as governor? What, as a governor of this state, (do I want) when I realize the biggest issue I've had this year that I didn't know I was going to have is dealing with the federal government,” Haley said. “I absolutely am looking at it from a governor's standpoint ... and knowing the number one issue for me and my colleagues is jobs and the economy.”

Haley was referring to her fight with the National Labor Relations Board over Boeing building a plant in South Carolina, controversial state laws that Haley helped push through to help curb illegal immigration and to require voters to present IDs at the polls. The federal government is challenging both the immigration and voter ID laws in court.

It's yet to be seen if Haley's backing can help resurrect Romney who led S.C. polls for months only to take a backseat recently to former U.S. House Speaker Gingrich. After spending millions in South Carolina in 2008, Romney finished a disappointing fourth place.

Haley’s popularity certainly has waned in the Palmetto State. Only 34 percent of S.C. voters and a little more than half of the state’s Republicans approve of the job that she is doing as governor, according to a recent poll from Winthrop University.

In fact, the poll found more South Carolina voters approve of Democratic President Barack Obama than they approve of Haley’s job as governor -- a findings S.C. Republicans have disputed.

But that has not stopped the Republican presidential candidates from courting Haley’s endorsement. Haley invited all of the candidates to spend the night at the governor’s mansion, an invitation several candidates accepted -- including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gingrich, who was accompanied by his wife.

In a news release, Romney said he was honored to have Haley’s endorsement and praised Haley’s “conservative principles of smaller government,” saying they will serve as a model for his campaign.

“As a successful businesswoman who entered public service so government could better serve the people, Governor Haley’s career-long efforts to reform government, make government more accountable to the taxpayers, and fight wasteful spending should be examples for leaders across the country,” Romney said in a press release.

As the first primary in the South, South Carolina is a critical part of the Republican nominating process, serving as a key indicator of how evangelical and social conservatives will vote. The power of Haley’s endorsement only increased after U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville announced he would not endorse a candidate this election cycle. DeMint -- known as Sen. Tea Party -- endorsed Romney in 2008.

Haley’s endorsement will help boost Romney’s profile in a state that the former Massachusetts governor mostly has ignored. Earlier this week, S.C. Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly criticized Romney for not spending enough time in South Carolina.

But Romney will hold a rally today at the Boiling Springs Fire Station in Greenville and he will host two town hall meetings in Myrtle Beach and Charleston Saturday -- events that Haley will attend. And he will air his first TV ad in S.C., "Leader," which has already aired in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The S.C. Republican primary is scheduled for Jan. 21.