On Friday afternoon, a buoyant crowd at the Boiling Springs Fire Department in Greenville cheered as Mitt Romney and his wife Ann took the stage side by side with their new best friends, Gov. Nikki Haley and her husband Michael.
Earlier in the day, for president. The endorsement from Haley is a significant one for Romney, and when combined with endorsements from the likes of Chris Christie and Tim Pawlenty would seem to make him the preferred choice among the so-called establishment.
In many other election cycles getting tabbed by the governor of an early state in the primary calendar would be a sign that the nomination is all but wrapped up. But that is not the case. To begin with, Haley’s influence may be more national than local. Voters Patch spoke to since Haley’s announcement , .
Also, this election cycle has proven that what the establishment wants has little influence over voters. Witness the rise in the polls of outsider candidates like Herman Cain, Rick Perry and now Newt Gingrich. While Romney has been considered the frontrunner since declaring his candidacy, he has never led in the polls in South Carolina for any significant period of time. Even his own staffers privately admit that it is not absolutely necessary for him to win here to secure the nomination. The endorsement from Haley figures to do little to change that attitude.
Nevertheless, the fact that Romney’s nomination is no longer a fait accompli, gives Haley’s endorsement some added weight. It takes the spotlight away from Gingrich, if only for a moment, and allows Romney to focus on himself, rather than the flaws he sees in the former speaker.
Both Romney and Haley seemed to sense the implications of the endorsement in their remarks to the crowd. Romney noted similarities between his family’s history before ceding the dais to Haley.
Haley meanwhile, explained why she settled on Romney after hosting several other candidates at the Governor’s mansion in Columbia. She cited Romney’s leadership abilities as both a governor and a businessman, his commitment to the military and the fact that he has no strong ties to Washington, DC.
Most in the crowd, which included State Representative Phyllis Henderson (R-21), were strongly supportive of Romney. One middle-aged woman, who asked that her name not be used, said she had originally supported Rick Perry but had switched to Romney when it became apparent to her that Perry could not win. Her friend, another middle-aged woman who asked not be identified, was a longtime supporter of Romney’s. They agreed that Romney’s Mormonism was hurting his poll numbers in South Carolina, but that his religion was not a factor in their decision to back him.
Brittany Parkhurst, a recent graduate of USC-Upstate and resident of Greenville, had been leaning toward Romney, but now is supporting him fully. The fact that Gingrich has risen to the top of the polls made Parkhurst look closer at Romney. She does not consider herself religious but believes character is important when picking a candidate. “He’s been married to the same woman for 40 years and he is a good family man,” she said. Parkhurst also said she would not vote for Gingrich if he were the nominee.
That last point may be the best argument for a Romney nomination. In a race where voters have found little to agree on, the one facet about Romney on which there seems to be a consensus is that the former Massachusetts governor has the best chance to beat Barack Obama in the GOP field. It’s an attribute Romney is counting on to carry the day.
Note: Haley will appear with Romney at campaign events in Charleston and Myrtle Beach on Saturday where they will be joined by Congressman Tim Scott of the First District.