One of the aces that Mitt Romney believes he holds in the Palmetto State is the endorsement of Nikki Haley, the new 39-year-old governor who rocketed to political stardom last year by challenging the good-ol’-boy political network in the state. Fueled by endorsements from both Sarah Palin and Romney, Haley was able to marshal tea-party support to crush a sitting attorney general, a sitting congressman, and the state’s lieutenant governor, winning the GOP nomination and then the general election.
It was classic political Cinderella theater, with the story of the state’s first governor from a minority group (Haley is Indian-American) taking place on the 150th anniversary of its secession from the union and providing a powerful symbol of just how far the South has progressed. But one year after she was sworn in, enough of the luster has worn off that former governor Mark Sanford, her immediate predecessor and political mentor, is discouraged. “I wonder if she’ll be more of a liability to Romney than she is an asset,” he told me. “She’s taken her eye off the ball and lost focus.”
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