South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley boasted of her jobs record and for pushing back against the Obama administration as she launched her re-election bid Monday at a rally attended by three fellow Republican governors and hundreds of others.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker all blasted the federal government, saying South Carolina needs Haley to continue the fight against the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. The rally was followed by a private, high-dollar fundraiser with those potential presidential candidates in the ultra-conservative Upstate.
Monday’s announcement by Haley officially sets up a long-expected rematch between Haley and Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden.
“Wait until you see what we do next,” Haley said outside the BI-LO Center in Greenville. “We’re going to continue to go forward until South Carolina is the best, strongest, most successful state in the country.”
Democrats said the event with out-of-state governors shows that Haley’s focus is outside South Carolina. But Haley said she invited them because they are outspoken reformers in their states. She said they are also her friends.
“They’re going to make up all kinds of excuses to distract from the fact that we have three awesome governors on stage with me in South Carolina supporting me,” she said in an interview before the rally. “There’s no negative you can find in that.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott introduced the four governors at the rally.
Unions and the federal health care law known as Obamacare were favorite topics of the governors.
“When unions tried to bully us, my heels got taller. We started kicking harder,” Haley said. “When it came to Obamacare, we didn’t just say no, we said never. We’re going to keep on fighting until we get people like Scott and everybody else in Congress to defund Obamacare.”
South Carolina is one of the least unionized states in the country. Still, Walker said the election represents a choice for who controls the state – taxpayers or the “big union bosses.”
The event and fundraiser gave the visiting governors an opportunity to mingle with donors in the early primary state.
Before the event, Jindal insisted he was there only to support Haley. But his six-minute speech focused on the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Is this administration the most liberal in our history or the most incompetent?” he asked to loud applause and shouts of “Both!” “To quote Secretary Clinton, what difference does it make at this point? … There is a rebellion. Nikki Haley is one of those leaders.”
Perry, who was in South Carolina when he dropped out of his 2012 presidential bid, noted the states are in competition with each other for jobs. He said Haley makes South Carolina a tough competitor.
Several dozen Democrats protested the event. While Haley bragged that the unemployment rate is at a five-year low, Democrats countered the 8.1 percent rate is still too high, and that workers lack good-paying jobs.
Haley used the protesters’ presence to highlight her husband’s service in Afghanistan. Capt. Michael Haley left in January for a yearlong mission to Afghanistan. His unit is the third South Carolina Army National Guard group to spend a year working with Afghan farmers on practices designed to turn them from growing the poppies used to make opium.
“I appreciate you being up there because my husband is in Afghanistan right now fighting for you to be able to do that,” Haley told the protesters. “I will always appreciate freedom of speech.”
Haley said she made the decision to run for a second term after talking with her husband when he was home for his two week leave in June.
Sheheen announced a second bid in April. No one else from either party has indicated plans to join the race.
Haley’s war chest for 2014 already tops $2.4 million, compared to less than $600,000 cash that Sheheen had available at the end of June. But Sheheen outraised her in the second quarter, his first as an official candidate. Monday’s fundraiser is sure to provide Haley a third-quarter boost.
Tickets to the fundraiser at a Greenville developer’s home started at $1,000 a couple. For $3,500 per couple, attendees could arrive 30 minutes earlier and have photos taken with the governors. State law limits donations to statewide candidates to $3,500 per campaign cycle.
Walker is returning a favor to Haley with his first visit to South Carolina. His spokesman has said Walker was attending the fundraiser at Haley’s invitation, since she visited Wisconsin on his behalf during last year’s recall.