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Election in her pocket, Nikki Haley's challenge begins now

November 03, 2010 12:14 IST

Though the people of South Carolina have stood behind her, the establishment is against Nikki Haley, including the powerful media, points out George Joseph

Now that Nikki Haley has won the election for South Carolina governor, the question on everyone's mind is, how smart an administrator will she be?

Haley's rise to power is comparable to the ascendance of Jimmy Carter in the '80s and President Barack Obama two years ago.

Carter and Obama rose to power on a wave of popular dissatisfaction against the establishment. They were at the right time at the right place to ride the disenchantment.

It was rather easy to reach the peak, but to keep the promises was not easy. Carter lost after one term to Ronald Reagan. As for Obama, his popularity is on a steady decline, as is evident from the election results.

Many fear a similar fate awaits Haley, won her state's top post in the very first attempt, something seasoned politicians failed to do despite many attempts.

Though the people stood behind her, the establishment is against her, including the powerful media. Obama is lucky that the media has still not forsaken him. Haley's opposition is evident when The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper, endorsed almost all Republicans except Haley. It endorsed Ken Ard for lt-governor, Alan Wilson for attorney general, Mick Zais for superintendent of education and more. Only Haley was not fit, according to the newspaper.

Cindi Ross Scoppe, The State's associate editor, wrote a week before the election: 'Her entire campaign has been an attack -- sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit -- on the legislature that her own party controlsÂ… She also demonstrates the Sanford (current governor) trait that most infuriates legislators: Do as I say, not as I do.'

Endorsing her opponent, the paper noted that the governor of the state has very little power and s/he needs the support of the legislature to move the government forward.

'Ms Haley makes a wonderful first impression. But she has proven herself unable to work even with members of her own party. She has not tried seriously to govern, as a look at the meager list of bills she has introduced demonstrates,' it noted.

Warren Bolton, another associate editor went further: 'Haley is an ambitious, refried Mark Sanford. She has run a bumper-sticker campaign that excites, incites and enrages, but doesn't empower, encourage or promote our entire state. There's little depth to her plans or promises.

'There's a reason for that: It wasn't really until she decided to run for higher office that she began thinking about all of South Carolina. She has no record of accomplishment. No calluses from working in the vineyard. Nothing to suggest that, outside of her district, Carolina has been on her mind. She's never thought this big before.'

Haley was never a favorite of the establishment. She wanted changes in the systems and institutions which infuriated the elders in the party as well as in legislature. Her own entrance to the legislature six years ago was by defeating the incumbent who held the seat for 30 years. When he won for the first time to the state assembly, Haley was just three years old.

She challenged the slumber of the establishment, especially the practice of anonymous voting by legislators. They could vote on any controversial bill in secret and nobody would know who voted for or against it. She came up with a bill against it to the dismay of the elders, who moved to sideline her in the legislature and the party.

She further wanted to limit the number of terms one can hold the same office, further antagonising the insiders.

When she announced her run for governor, not many took her seriously. As she herself said in rallies, she was the underdog with no name and no money. In opinion polls and in fund collection she was at the last.

But she continued the campaign, putting forward her ideas and promoting them using the internet.

Sarah Palin, the queen of the right wing politics, saw them and got charmed by another attractive young woman with fresh ideas and a fresh look. She interacted with her and found her more than what she expected. Some termed Haley as another Palin with brains.

When Palin came to the state house steps to announce her support for Haley, the underdog became the top dog.

Haley won 49 percent votes in the primary, with Rep Gresham Barrett coming a distant second. In the run-off that followed, Haley trounced him decisively.

Haley started her campaign for governor with a huge margin, which gradually slipped away over one thing or other. The accusations of infidelity did not stay in the minds of the people for long. But the doubts about her credibility on many other things as well as her ability to lead the state given her little experience, made many to rethink about their support to her. By election time, the Tea Party lost much of its steam and the Democrats regained some of the control they had lost.

Though in the wrong party as far as a conservative state is considered, Democratic opponent and state Senator Vincent Sheheen proved to be a formidable candidate with more experience and better connections throughout the state.

But the common man found that Haley represented their ideas of Old America, which stood for less government and more freedom.

In rallies ordinary people applauded when Haley spoke about her opposition to 'Obama care' or the stimulus package for the states, though many in the audience would benefit from the healthcare reform as the state is one of the poorest in the country. But they were blinded by ideology.

The State also noted: 'She has repeatedly failed to pay or even file her income taxes until many months after her extension expired -- while claiming that an accounting degree proves she's fiscally responsible to manage our state's finances.

'She has campaigned against insider political dealing while using her office to enrich herself, just like the old Democratic power-brokers routinely used to do. She has repeatedly misled us about herself and her opponents, attributing to others the worst of her own characteristics.

'We can't take four more years of political bickering, of a governor whose every claim has to be checked and double-checked, of fixating on the ideological firestorms of Washington.'

Haley started with an attitude of conciliation, Scoppe noted. 'It was one of the things that impressed me about her. But somewhere along the way, she made the decision to attack legislative leaders rather than working with them, to insist on ideological purity rather than yielding any ground to all those other people who got a vote too.'

The fundamental problem with Ms Haley is that she almost certainly would bring us four more years of gridlock, Scoppe pointed out.

Will the journalist turn out to be prophetic? Only the coming years will tell.

Image: Nikki Haley takes a breather on election day in Columbia, South Carolina | Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

George Joseph in Columbia