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Nikki Haley closes in on South Carolina governor's post

Last updated on: November 1, 2010 12:56 IST

Nikki Haley closes in on South Carolina governor's post

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A day before the election for the post of the governor of South Carolina, Republican candidate Nikki Haley continues to lead in opinion polls. So far, no opinion poll has found her opponent -- State Senator and Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen -- ahead of Haley.

Campaign officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Rediff.com that Haley will beat her opponent by a margin of 7-8 percent. A few weeks ago, she was ahead of Sheheen by a double digit margin, but vicious personal attacks have dented that support to some extent.

On the last lap of her campaign tour, Haley looked exhausted. Eighteen months of hard work, tension, uncertainties, scandals and politics have left their mark on her.

"Just two more days," Haley told the enthusiastic crowd waiting for her at the Republican Party headquarters in Spartanburg, 100 miles from Columbia, capital of South Carolina.

Reportage: George Joseph  Photographs: Paresh Gandhi


Image: Nikki Haley on the campaign trail

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'Things have been turned upside down'

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True to the current political climate, African Americans were rarely seen in her rallies. Haley, a darling of the Tea Party movement led by right wing leaders like Sarah Palin, former candidate for vice president, represents the opposite of what President Barack Obama stands for.

Attorney General Henry McMaster, who introduced Haley to the crowd, was one of the first to sue the Obama administration's healthcare reform in Supreme Court.

When she began to speak, Haley's captivating voice and crystal clear ideas drew keen attention and loud applause at times.

She spoke about taking back the government to the people. It has grown out of proportion in Washington, DC, and Columbia, she said. "The government was never meant to be everything for everybody. It was intended for protecting freedoms of the people. It is the family that comes first, then the community, the state and the nation. But things have been turned upside down," she said. It should be made right once again and it starts from South Carolina, Haley said to thunderous applause from the crowd.



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'The real work starts in January'

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Haley said when she started on the journey; she had no name or money. But then something amazing happened. People realised their power and exercised it and created history in the primary. "This election day, too, we will do very well. But the real work starts in January, when power comes back to the people," she noted.

She said she will continue the fight against 'Obama care' and the federal stimulus programme that funds the states to get out of recession -- again to loud applause from the people.

Haley also explained her favourite policy preferences: Legislators will only vote on record and no anonymous voting will be allowed; Term limits for every office will be implemented limiting the number of terms one can hold in the same office; Government spending will be made transparent, providing information online about each dollar spent.

In Anderson, another small town, Haley received a standing ovation from five Anderson County Council members, two state senators and a state representative.



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'We are going to have a true conversation with Washington'

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The theme of her speech there was almost the same. "We are going to have a true conversation with Washington and let them know what they can and can't do. The government's role is to secure our liberties. It was never meant to be all things to all people," she said.

"You could either go with someone who's going to support 'Obamacare' or supports parts of it, or someone who is going to fight it to the Supreme Court. You can either go with someone who was a cheerleader for the Obama stimulus or someone who is going to fight against bailouts and stimulus packages," she said in a message.

Her husband Michael Haley and children Rena and Nalin accompanied her on the bus tour through the heartland of the state.


Image: Nikky Haley's Join the Movement bus

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'Is she not American?'

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In Spartanburg, Haley's elder brother Mitti Randhawa, a former army officer, along with his wife and daughter Alissa came on the bus along with younger brother Gogi, a graphic designer in Atlanta and his wife. They had enjoyed the campaign tour, said Haley's family, and expected her to win handsomely.

The people in the small towns were very friendly and nobody seemed to bother about the fact that Haley is an Indian origin woman.

When pointed out this fact, David Burns, a former New Yorker living in Anderson for decades, put forward another question, "Is she not American?" He said people are not looking at the colour of the skin but about the ideas and capabilities of the person they are going to elect. Burns said he was a Democrat, but was tired of their policies and wanted to vote for Haley this time.


Image: Haley with husband Michael and children Rena and Nalin

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'She has all the qualities to lead the state'

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Trey Dickson, who was a neighbour of Haley when her family lived in Hamburg, said he expects her to be a great governor. "She has all the qualities to lead the state successfully," he said.

Marisa Crawford, who is one of the leaders of the campaign, said people may be more concerned about a woman becoming the governor as the state has no history of electing women to top posts.

The allegation that 30 percent of money for Haley came from out of the state was only partially true, said Crawford, who deals with the financial aspects of the campaign.

"This is a conservative state with currently no woman senator in the general assembly. To have a woman running for a governor's seat is a delight for many women," said Nalini Raja Patel, a resident of South Carolina since 1986.



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'She is still standing tall'

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She is a little unhappy that Haley did not do as well as expected in her debate with Sheheen. "Granted that Sheheen is an attorney, and, therefore is supposed to be good at arguments/debates and a better orator, but his attacks on her honesty may hurt her. On top of this, Haley belongs to the Republican Party which has a track record of not getting the state out of poverty or a better education system or healthcare. The general public is looking for a change, not the Obama 'change' or a party change but looking for economic change even though the GOP controls both the chambers in SC since mid-1990s," she said.

"I hope the bashing done by both candidates will not turn voters away from the polls, and hope that whoever wins will bring big economic changes to South Carolina," Patel said.

At a rally at the Oconee County Republican Party headquarters office in Seneca, US Senator Lindsey Graham noted, 'She has taken everything they have thrown at her and handled it with dignity and grace and is still standing tall. We need a governor who will sign the bills that will move the state forward.'



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'A lot of things about her don't add up'

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The opponents are also playing other tactics. Billboards were seen in Spartanburg saying 'Republicans for Sheheen.' Though some Republicans are in the opposing camp, Haley's people consider it as part of a Democratic tactic to drive a wedge among the Republicans.

Former state Senator John Hawkins, a Republican, told the media that he was glad to see those signs appear and called them a spontaneous reaction to Haley's candidacy. "I'm part of a loose-knit group of Republicans -- not necessarily a formal group -- but a group that's very concerned about Nikki Haley and that puts their concern for the state above party affiliation," he said.

'Because I have a strong concern that if she's elected, she will not further South Carolina's best interests. Where there's smoke, there's fire. A lot of things about her don't add up. And a lot of people feel that way,' he said.



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