How Much Does Haley's Support Help Romney?
Political activists, watchers responds to the S.C. governor's support of the former Massachusetts governor.
Most candidates are devoting the final weeks before the primaries stumping for votes in hot contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney will be spending the weekend in South Carolina, taking a victory lap after the prize endorsement from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
It was a decision that likely surprised Haley's Tea Party supporters, said Jeri Cabot, adjunct professor of political science at the College of Charleston.
Romney's ideology doesn't match with many of the conservative voters that rallied behind Haley against established GOP leaders in the 2010 gubernatorial race. "Romney doesn't have a Palin outlook," said Cabot.
That said, Haley's endorsement will have legs, appearing after every reference to Romney in media reports until the Jan. 21 primary. Every little bit helps, Cabot said.
Romney fought hard for a South Carolina Primary win in 2008, but came away with a fourth place finish. The Haley endorsement opens the door to a better finish in 2012.
"He doesn't expect to win, but he doesn't want to be fourth either," Cabot said.
Romney struggles to find traction in the face of a strong surge from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is nearly 20 points ahead in the latest Palmetto State primary polls.
Haley was heavily courted by other candidates, but her endorsement isn't entirely unexpected. She endorsed Romney in 2008 and the former Massachusetts governor endorsed the governor early in the 2010 GOP primary for governor.
"I am delighted by her announcement and welcome Nikki’s commitment and her enthusiastic support for Governor Romney," he said. "South Carolina has a winner in Governor Romney. With Governor Haley on our team we are well on our way to ensuring Barack Obama is a one-term president."
Charleston County Democratic Party Chair George Temple is skeptical that the endorsement will help.
"In the long run I don't think the endorsement will matter at all," Temple said. "Not even Republicans like Haley."
He went on to characterize the GOP primary race as a farce, and said Democrats planned to rally outside Meminger Auditorium Saturday during Romney's planned town hall meeting.
Robert Oldendick, executive director of The Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at the University of South Carolina, agrees that Haley's endorsement doesn't constitute a transformative moment for the Romney campaign.
"While Governor Haley's endorsement may help Romney in the state, it is unlikely to make much of a difference in the outcome of the race," Oldendick said. "Romney's support has seemed to hit a ceiling in South Carolina, and given Republican primary voters' familiarity with him, this endorsement will not produce a surge in support."
And while Romney may be happy to have the governor's endorsement, as any other candidate would be, Romney stands to gain more from going on the offensive in his campaign, moreso than Haley's support.
"But any in-roads that he makes into Gingrich's current lead are much more likely to be a result of negative campaign ads targeted at Gingrich or the types of questions that were raised in last night's debate - not to mention a possible stumble by Gingrich - than from any endorsement," Oldendick said.
Danielle Vinson, who chairs Furman University's political science department said it is likely that Haley's decision rests on the issue of electability.
"I think Haley probably decided that while there might be questions about how committed Romney is to conservative ideas, he is without a doubt the candidate most likely to beat Obama in the general election," Vinson said. "It will probably be a nice cycle of news for Romney because it plays into his own theme that he's best situated to win the general election. And it may convince some conservatives at the margins to get over their qualms about Romney and vote for him based on the electability factor."
Haley's endorsement of Romney has made waves also because of Romney's nearly complete neglect of the state on the campaign trail. But Vinson cautions against making knee-jerk reactions regarding Haley's endorsement just because Romney didn't make himself visible in the Palmetto State. There's also the small matter of Romney's past support for Haley, and the possible expectations that lie therein.
"As for getting the endorsement without campaigning in the state: He might not have spent much time in South Carolina, but he has likely spent time talking to the governor, and he did endorse her when she ran for governor," Vinson said.
Oldendick said that though Romney put more resources into South Carolina when he sensed opportunity in the state coinciding with Gov. Rick Perry's decline, he ultimately focused on other early battleground states.
"After Perry's drop in the polls, he saw an opportunity to do better than expected here and put some resources into the state, but has since decided to concentrate more on Iowa and New Hampshire," Oldendick said. "Gaining Governor Haley's endorsement was more a result of her personal assessments of the candidates rather than of any campaign efforts Romney has made in the state."