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State's 1st woman chief to take helm

Nikki Haley will take the oath of office as S.C. governor this morning on the Statehouse's south steps, just a few dozen yards from statues of former Govs. Wade Hampton and Strom Thurmond, visible reminders of South Carolina's old guard.

Haley upset that old guard to win a four-way Republican primary in June and then rode a continuing wave of voter discontent to victory in November.

Since the founding of the United States, 85 men have served as S.C. governor.

Haley will be the first woman.

Haley also will be the state's first Indian-American governor - she is the daughter of immigrants - and, at 38, the nation's youngest sitting chief executive.

Today's inaugural ceremony and its participants will recognize the support Haley saw from across the Palmetto State, said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey. "People from across South Carolina joined the governor-elect's movement."

Among those on the program is the Rev. Brian Rainwater of Mount Horeb United Methodist, Haley's Lexington County church.

"I never dreamed I would be doing the gubernatorial inauguration," said Rainwater, who will be giving the invocation.

Rainwater said his prayer will focus on the Haley family and all those taking office today.

"It is a family event for them," said Rainwater, adding that Mount Horeb's members have kept the Haleys in their prayers throughout the year.

Inauguration day will begin with a 9 a.m. prayer service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the historic church that neighbors the Statehouse.

Haley's primary win catapulted her into the national spotlight, and her inauguration will be watched by the nation as well. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour - a possible GOP presidential candidate and chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which backed Haley - is expected to attend.

However, the weather will keep at least one scheduled group from attending. David Rhyne, conductor of the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities choir, said by e-mail Tuesday that his ensemble will not be able to make the trip from Greenville. Lingering snow and ice from Monday's storms forced Greenville County public schools to close Tuesday.

The rest of the ceremony will go on as planned, Haley spokesman Godfrey said.

That includes 1st Sgt. Peter Lara - the 2009 Army Times noncommissioned officer of the year and, like Haley, a resident of Lexington - reading the Pledge of Allegiance.

Haley's childhood home of Orangeburg will be represented by the Claflin University choir. S.C. poet laureate Marjory Wentworth Heath will read "The Weight It Takes."

After the other statewide constitutional officers are sworn in, S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal will administer the oath of office to Haley.

Haley's inaugural theme - a nod to the state's $830 million budget shortfall - is "in every challenge there lies tremendous opportunity," Godfrey said. The speech, which Godfrey said Haley wrote, will take about 12 to 15 minutes.

Among the Haleys' last-minute adjustments, Godfrey said, were adding layers of clothing to cope with temperatures expected in the low 30s when the swearing-in ceremony begins.