Despite recent attempts to upend her and her agenda, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appears to have avoided for now any severe long-term career damage, political consultants and analysts said.
Haley has endured months of criticism about a South Carolina House Ethics Committee investigation over claims she used her office for personal gain and lobbying illegally for employers.
She was cleared after a two-day hearing last month.
“The governor’s Teflon got dinged a little but no fatal wounds,” said Wesley Donehue, Senate GOP caucus director and a political consultant. “It was a giant nothing burger.”
She turned that case into part of the classic narrative of her campaign and governorship: The good ol’ boys are fighting Haley’s reforms by attacking her with baseless accusations.
“Every single time the legislature tries to hurt her, they help her build her reputation,” Donehue said. .”
Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist, said he expects Haley’s opponents will not back down and are girding for another fight after asking themselves, “How does she keep getting out of this?”
“If a boxer throws a punch and your opponent doesn’t flinch, you’ll throw a harder punch next time,” Huffmon said. “They thought (ethics accuser) John Rainey had a knockout punch. Now they’re now putting horseshoes in their boxing gloves.”
They might have a hard time making the blows sting.
Her approval among Republicans was 60 percent, according to a Winthrop University poll this spring.
Recent internal polling shows Haley’s favorability – which tends to be higher than approval ratings – reaching around 70 percent among Republicans in the Pee Dee and Upstate counties of Greenville and Spartanburg.
“She should be in the 80 (percent favorability) with that audience,” said Tucker Eskew, a South Carolina native and seasoned, Washington-based consultant who worked in the George W. Bush White House. “I’d say they’re good numbers with room to grow.”
Eskew doubts the ethics investigation will hurt her standing with GOP voters if she decides to seek re-election in 2014.
But others, including Republican consultant Chip Felkel, aren’t so sure.
He said disparity exists between Haley’s reputation within the state and outside of it.
The national media continue to dote on Haley as an exceptional, young, minority woman who beat the odds to become governor in the Deep South.
At home, she faces a more critical eye on issues such as backing a decision to allow a permit that critics say provides Georgia’s Savannah port a competitive advantage over South Carolina’s Charleston port.
“Most of the S.C. press stories written about Nikki Haley in the last three months have been about ethics issues and about her not getting along with the legislature,” Felkel said.
“It could have an effect. I think there’s perhaps some rising cynicism about her.”