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S.C. Gov. Haley To Give GOP Response To State Of The Union Address


Let's get to know a rising star in the Republican Party. It is South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. She's playing a central role as the party tries to diversify its support. Governor Haley is young, female and the daughter of immigrants from India. And she was repeatedly tested last year as South Carolina coped with historic flooding and also the aftermath of a deadly shooting at a black church in Charleston. Now Nikki Haley is set to deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address tomorrow night. Here's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: On June 18 of last year, Nikki Haley stood in a makeshift briefing room near the Charleston waterfront and gave voice to what many South Carolinians were feeling.


NIKKI HALEY: We woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.

MCCAMMON: The night before, a 21-year-old white man had attended a Bible study at the historic black church known as Mother Emanuel AME. He'd sat with the worshipers for about an hour, then shot and killed nine of them. The investigation into the murders revealed that the alleged shooter had ties to white supremacist groups and proudly posed with the Confederate flag in photos online. A few days after the shooting, Haley called a press conference at the state capital in Columbia.


HALEY: We have stared evil in the eye and watched good, prayerful people killed in one of the most sacred of places.

MCCAMMON: Surrounded by South Carolina black leaders, including Congressman Jim Clyburn and Senator Tim Scott, Haley called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag.


HALEY: Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.


MCCAMMON: After a fight in the state legislature, the flag came down in July. But anger about that decision still lingers among some South Carolinians. Greg Rice and Becky Leffew were eating lunch at Ray's Diner in Columbia yesterday. They disagreed with Haley's push to take down the flag.

GREG RICE: I think she did it for expediency.

BECKY LEFFEW: Tempest in a teapot - all of this furor over something just symbolic when we have everything else to be taking care of.

MCCAMMON: That's not the majority opinion here. A Winthrop Poll in September found that two-thirds of South Carolinians felt that removing the flag was the right thing to do. That poll also showed Haley's approval ratings above 50 percent, although her time as governor has not been all smooth sailing. She's faced what Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon calls slings and arrows, both from inside and outside her party.

SCOTT HUFFMON: There were, you know, allegations of infidelity that had no credibility or nothing really backing them up when she was initially running. There were accusations of ethics violations from her time serving in the South Carolina legislature, and nothing ever came from those either.

MCCAMMON: Haley was a little-known state representative when she ran for governor in 2010, successfully taking on several establishment Republicans. She became the first woman and the first minority to lead the state. And she's currently the youngest sitting governor in the country. Whispers about Haley's ambitions for national office have been around since she was elected, but Huffmon thinks her response to the shootings in Charleston was a breakthrough moment.

HUFFMON: So I think that that not only raised her popularity within the state, it definitely added to her stature around the rest of the country.

MCCAMMON: At the National Press Club in September, Haley demurred when she was asked if she'd like to run for vice president in 2016.


HALEY: Honestly, what I will tell you is if there is a time where a presidential nominee wants to sit down and talk, of course I will sit down and talk.

MCCAMMON: If any of the potential Republican nominees are considering Haley as a running mate, they'll have a chance to see how she performs on a big stage tomorrow night. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Columbia, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.

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