Gov. Nikki Haley was in the Grand Strand for the second time in two weeks Thursday during a campaign tour across the state to announce her endorsement by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber board member and past president Mike Brenan pointed to Haley’s “business-friendly” policies such as decreasing the small business tax rate and supporting the port system as reasons why they endorsed Haley this time around.
The nod marks a change from four years ago when the chamber endorsed the Lexington Republican’s Democratic rival, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, who is challenging Haley again in November.
The chamber’s first endorsement for governor was in 2010. The chamber first endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, not Haley, in the GOP primary and Sheheen in the Democratic primary. After those contests, the chamber said it would stick with Sheheen in the general election.
Thursday’s announcement at Ocean Lakes Campground in Myrtle Beach was one of four on across the state, other stops to announce the endorsement were in Greenville, Charleston and Columbia. Haley’s campaign paid for the statewide trip, campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
The Sheheen campaign released a statement Thursday afternoon saying he was not surprised the chamber endorsed Haley.
“The chamber’s announcement continues an unfortunate trend in their decision-making that favors big, out-of-state corporations at the expense of South Carolina’s small businesses,” Sheheen said in the statement. “While we must always continue to compete for new projects, if we ignore our own small businesses we will never be truly economically successful.”
Haley said that 90 percent of the chamber’s 18,000 members are small business owners who employ 1 million people.
“The focus has been not just to bring new businesses [to South Carolina], but to take care of the businesses we already have,” she said.
Scott Middleton, chamber board of directors member and CEO of Agape Senior, disagreed with chamber’s the endorsement, saying in a statement from the Sheheen campaign that the senator puts the best interests of the state ahead of politics.
Sheheen was in the Myrtle Beach area Wednesday to meet with a small group of Horry County teachers to discuss ways to improve public education in the state. Godfrey said Sheheen’s appearance did not influence the governor’s trip to the Grand Strand on Thursday.
In November, Haley and Sheheen also face independent petition candidate Tom Ervin, Libertarian Steve French, and United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves.