While introducing the next senator from South Carolina, the then-Gov. Nikki Haley said her decision to name Tim Scott was “pretty simple.”
“This man loves South Carolina,” Haley said of Scott, a congressman at the time. “He is well aware that what he does and every vote he casts affects South Carolina and affects our country. And that’s how I knew he was the right person.”
Scott was just as effusive, praising Haley as someone who ruled with “conviction” and “integrity.” He vowed to “team with Nikki Haley to make sure all of America continues to hear the good things about South Carolina.”
Haley and Scott are forever linked by that announcement in the South Carolina House of Representatives on a winter day in 2012, cementing their status as rising stars in a Republican Party frustrated by Barack Obama’s re-election just a month earlier. But nearly a dozen years later, they find themselves poised to compete against each other for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Haley has already launched a campaign, and Scott took steps last week to initiate his own bid.
Both have historic potential, with Haley aiming to become the first woman and the first person of Indian descent to win the presidency. Scott would be the first black Republican president. But much of the early race attention focused on former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is presumed to be about to announce his own candidacy.
As the Republican field begins to take shape, the potential for a Haley-Scott showdown is putting some of their mutual supporters in the critical early-voting state of South Carolina in a puzzle as they weigh which candidate to support.
One such longtime donor and patron is Mikee Johnson, a South Carolina businessman who has known Haley since high school and serves on the board of directors of her Original Six Foundation, which offers after-school programs and resources for literacy for children in rural South Carolina school districts. . But like many Republicans across the state, Johnson has also been a friend and ally of Scott, whom he told he will back Haley in the presidential race.
“I really admire all the things that Nikki has done, their friendship is important to me, but at this point, I think her style is more what I would like to see our leaders, not just our president, aspire to do things with. style and style. approach that does,” Johnson said.
Another is David Wilkins, who was the speaker of the South Carolina state House of Representatives when Haley was in the Legislature, then chaired her gubernatorial transition team and now sits alongside her on the Clemson University board. . Saying he has the “greatest respect” for Scott, whom he has supported in his Senate runs, Wilkins, who also served as ambassador to Canada under President George W. Bush, said his connection to Haley is stronger.
“He is an outstanding senator and we are very proud of him here in South Carolina,” Wilkins said of Scott. “I just have a very strong friendship with her. It is not choosing one person over another. It’s just going with the person I believe in, who I’m very close to, someone I’ve known for 20 years.”
The intertwining relationships of those who have supported both Haley and Scott reflect the politicians themselves, whose shared political history stretches back beyond the pivotal Senate appointment. The two worked together for a single term in the state House of Representatives, after Scott joined Haley in the chamber after the 2008 election.
At the next session, the two signed a series of resolutions and bills, including a constitutional amendment, ultimately approved by state voters, guaranteeing workers the right to vote by secret ballot on union representation.
They also joined, along with several cosponsors, on other less successful bills, including measures to audit state education funding, grant “due process and equal protection rights” on fertilization, and a “truth in spending” measure. ” for all. state and local government entities. Other measures that did not pass would have created several state positions, such as the commissioner of agriculture, the secretary of state and the superintendent of education, appointed, not elected positions.
In 2010, Scott ran briefly for lieutenant governor, eventually abandoning that search to seek the 1st District seat to be vacated by retired Rep. Henry Brown. At the time, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina were elected separately; had Scott stayed in that race and won it, he and Haley would have served together as South Carolina’s top officials.
But two years later, when Jim DeMint abruptly announced his resignation from the Senate, Haley and Scott’s paths crossed once more. Rob Godfrey, a longtime adviser to Haley who served for a time as his top spokesman, said the governor’s process was deliberate, making a short list that included Scott, Rep. Trey Gowdy and former first lady Jenny. Sanford, ex-wife of the former governor. Mark Sanford, who was Haley’s predecessor.
Also on the short list was former attorney general Henry McMaster, one of Haley’s 2010 rivals who became one of her biggest backers and eventual successor. Catherine Templeton, an employment attorney Haley appointed to head the state’s labor and later public health agencies, was also under consideration.
“She took seriously every one of those candidates and their backgrounds and their credentials and what they were offering the state during this process, and at the end of the day she determined that there was one person who was the best fit to take the job and continue. Senator DeMint’s legacy, but also to blaze his own trail,” Godfrey said.
In choosing Scott, Haley said she wanted to name someone who she felt could retain the seat in subsequent elections and who was on the same ideological line as DeMint.
“It’s not about the political experience you have, it’s about the fight,” Haley said at the time. “It is about philosophical beliefs. It’s about knowing why they send you to Washington.”
Scott more than proved Haley right, winning a 2014 special election to fill the remaining two years of DeMint’s term, then winning an election of his own two years later. Last fall, Scott won re-election by more than 20 percentage points, a Senate race he had long said would be his last.
“Absolutely, she was thinking ahead,” said Chad Connelly, who was state chairman of the Republican Party at the time.
That future is now, as Haley and Scott prepare to compete against each other for the nation’s highest office. One day after Haley’s announcement, Scott embarked on a “listening tour”. Haley declined to comment on Scott when asked by The Associated Press.
“I have tremendous respect for Nikki Haley,” Scott said in a recent interview, adding that he had not spoken to Haley before launching his exploratory committee. “She is a strong and powerful force for good.”
He also dismissed any discomfort with running against the Republican who appointed him to the Senate, and with whom he would be in direct competition by competing for the same voters who had elected them both statewide.
“You put on your uniform, shake hands and go out onto the field. You fight for the good. You fight to win the game,” Scott said. “You take off your uniform, shake hands and continue on the road.”
“Before we were friends,” he added. “We’ll be friends later.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Associated Press writer Tom Beaumont in Marion, Iowa contributed to this report.