There was this moment early in the first Republican debate in Greenville, SC: Juan Williams asked, “Governor Pawlenty, despite 10 years of the Bush tax cuts the unemployment rate here in South Carolina was 9.6% in March. Do you have any ideas for stimulating the job market beyond continued tax cuts?” It was a “gotcha” question.
Pawlenty responded generically: “I sure do, Juan. It is an important question. As I travel the country people are worried. I grew up in a meat-packing town not unlike Greenville here in South Carolina, that used to have textile mills. When at an early age those plants shutdown I saw the face of jobless and economic worry in my hometown and my own family. I’ve seen this. I’ve lived it. We have a situation where the best thing that we can to for our fellow citizens is do those things that are going to make it more likely that jobs are going to grow.”
And then, Pawlenty swung for the fences and hit a grand slam: ”In South Carolina I’ll give you a good example, you have this administration through the national labor relation board telling a private company they cannot relocate to South Carolina and provide jobs in this state. And they are good paying jobs and needed jobs. It is a preposterous decision and position of this administration. I want to make it clear. The idea that the federal government can tell a business where they can be is a new line this administration has crossed. It is outrageous.”
The cameras panned to Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, who was applauding, smiling, and nodding in agreement. After the debate, she told reporters: “I applaud him [Pawlenty] for responding to the lawsuit against Boeing, and I challenge every other candidate to do the same,”
Four years ago, when she was a state representative, Haley endorsed Mitt Romney, but he exited the race just before the South Carolina primary. This time Haley has made it clear that she believes the Republican nominee should be a governor, but not necessarily Romney. She recently hammered Newt Gingrich for “undermining” Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal, saying that “The people of South Carolina support conservatives who are trying to push real change, and the people of South Carolina expect their presidential candidates to back them up when they show courage.” She has had kind words for both Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee, but both have since decided not to run. She was endorsed by Sarah Palin, but has made it clear that she did not seek Palin’s endorsement and has had little contact with her since the election. That leaves Pawlenty.
Haley’s endorsement of Pawlenty, particularly if it comes sooner rather than later, would be a major boost to his campaign. It would likely generate more support and more money. The two do share a common bond–Pawlenty pollster, Jon Lerner, was an advisor to Haley and her predecessor Mark Sanford. The smart money in South Carolina is betting that Haley will endorse Pawlenty, although she is being advised to remain neutral. Since South Carolina is one of the three big early prizes and winning Iowa and New Hampshire may be out of reach, Pawlenty needs Haley’s endorsement if he expects to carry the state. Expect him to get it. The question is really “When?”