CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Marco Rubio’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday night, a potentially crucial boost for the Florida senator on the eve of the GOP primary here.
Joining Rubio on stage at a rally in Chapin, S.C., Haley praised the Florida senator as someone who could restore a “conscience” to Republicans in Washington and get the party back on track in terms of focus on budgetary and economic issues.
“We say that every day is a great day in South Carolina,” Haley declared. “If we elect Marco Rubio, every day will be a great day in America.”
The endorsement was a major coup for Rubio, as he seeks to rebound from a disappointing fifth-place finish in last week’s New Hampshire primary. Though many polls predict Donald Trump will win South Carolina on Saturday, Rubio’s campaign has been increasingly hopeful about a stronger than expected finish here, as the Florida senator positions himself as alternative to Trump and Texas. Sen. Ted Cruz.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley poses with Marco Rubio after endorsing him on Feb. 17 in Chapin, S.C. (Photo: Chris Keane/Reuters)
Considered a rising star in the GOP, Haley was heavily courted by the 2016 GOP field — especially former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is looking to South Carolina to save his struggling presidential bid. In addition to entreaties from Jeb Bush, former Pres. George W. Bush also called on Haley Monday when he was in the state to campaign for his brother.
Haley backed Mitt Romney in the state’s GOP primary four years ago, a race he ultimately lost to Newt Gingrich. But her endorsement could be more crucial this year. Now in her second term at the statehouse, Haley is more popular with Republicans than she was four years ago. According to a Winthrop poll, Haley’s approval rating with Republicans was 52 percent back in 2012. It is now 81 percent — with 84 percent among so-called tea party Republicans, a crucial voting bloc in Saturday’s primary.
While Haley held out until the last minute to pick a candidate in the race, it was clear earlier this year that she would not support Trump. Picked to deliver the Republican Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in January, Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, used the opportunity to chastise Trump’s brand of politics, urging Republicans to resist the “siren call of the angriest voices.”
“No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country,” Haley said.
Joining Rubio on Wednesday, she again echoed that criticism, telling voters that a primary vote represents a serious choice.
“I wanted somebody with fight. I wanted somebody with passion. I wanted somebody that had conviction to do the right thing,” she said. “But I wanted to somebody humble enough that remembers that you work for all of the people, and I wanted somebody that was going to go and show my parents that the best decision they ever made for their children was coming to America.”