State Rep. Nikki Haley undoubtedly faces the most uphill battle of any of the Republican candidates seeking the nomination for governor, given that her much smaller constituent base as a starting point (her Statehouse district, versus two statewide officeholders and a Congressman) and her decided fundraising disadvantage.
Even so, Haley's campaign has been tenacious, buoyed in part by the national interest in her candidacy. One early poll showed her a solid contender for the runoff, and although the campaign finance reports released this week showed her with less than half the money in the bank of any of Henry McMaster, Andre Bauer or Gresham Barrett, the pundits all said the half-million or so she has is enough to remain a viable candidate.
Unlike in some areas in the state, no candidate for governor can really make a legitimate claim to Horry County as home turf (though they all try), which makes it pretty much open territory. They've all passed through, but Haley's just spent four days in a row campaigning here this weekend - the first concerted push like that from a candidate we've seen so far.
She concluded here today with two appearances before area Republicans, first at a lunch meeting of the Myrtle Beach Republican Women at the Dunes club, then at an evening forum hosted by the Carolina Patriots conservative group at the Myrtle Beach shrine club. At the lunch meeting, Haley delivered a fairly general introduction to her platform - including her fight for on-the-record voting, which was really the springboard for her campaign - followed by a quick Fair Tax question.
In that basically unedited version of her stump speech, one of Haley's better qualities is immediately apparent. While most S.C. Republicans see this election cycle as an opportunity to run against a bogeyman (i.e., President Obama) - especially Barrett but also McMaster, while Bauer is still running against President Clinton with the welfare thing - Haley largely resists that temptation, focusing instead on her own record and issues.
Because she was the only gubernatorial candidate at the Carolina Patriots forum, she was the sole recipient of a string of questions they'd prepared specifically for people in her race. In the video below, Haley describes her approach to the state budget, her thoughts on states' rights with regard to health care reform (with some curious thoughts about McMaster's lawsuit against it), and also touched on illegal immigration.
In that last point, you'll see some of the adversarial streak that she has in common with the current inhabitant of the governor's mansion: both she and Mark Sanford seem to have gotten so used to fighting the status quo that they sometimes attack when it's not even necessary - and even Sanford admits this poor relationship is partly to blame for his agenda's relatively limited success in the legislature. Haley would do well to study that failure - and the fact that in his last, humbled year, Sanford actually seems to be markedly more successful than in any year prior.
This tendency toward conflict also speaks to a deeper weakness of both the Sanford/Haley philosophies of government, however. Their obsessive focus on the negative - the waste and the redundancies that they rightly identify in state government and lawmaking - leads them to an excessively negative solution, almost every time: eliminate. Cut and eliminate. Haley never spoke today about making government do anything better, but only about making it smaller. And no matter how conservative you are, surely you believe there are some things that government should be the one doing (building roads? taking care of abused children?), and if you'll accept that premise, then you would presumably want the government to do those things well.
You don't hear that from Haley: she's more interested in making government agencies prove their worth than making them perform. Again, this is not to devalue accountability in the slightest, but to measure every state program first solely by its cost to taxpayers is ultimately as one-dimensional as politicians on the other side of the aisle who propose good-intentioned programs without a way to pay for them.