Four days before voters head to the polls for the S.C. Republican presidential primary, the state’s most coveted GOP endorsement remains unclaimed.
Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that she has not made up her mind on endorsing 2016 GOP hopeful. She did not rule out foregoing an endorsement.
Haley declined to tell reporters at the S.C. State House who is on her short list, but she ruled out backing GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
The New York billionaire criticized Haley on Monday for failing to protect South Carolina from Syrian refugees who could pose a danger to the state and the possibility of Guantanamo prisoners being transferred to the Navy brig outside Charleston. Haley has sent letters to federal officials voicing her objection to allowing refugees in the state and protesting proposals to move Guantanamo prisoners to South Carolina.
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Haley said Tuesday that it was unfortunate that a candidate comes into South Carolina without understanding the issues.
Haley’s backing would be considered a good catch for a presidential prospect since she remains one of the state’s most popular Republican politicians and a rising national GOP star.
She has become a favorite to make vice presidential short lists after her handling of the last year’s Charleston shooting and successful call to remove the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House grounds. The 44-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants gave the nationally televised Republican response to the State of the Union last month.
Speculation centered on the governor backing one of the establishment Republican presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in Saturday’s primary.
Haley communicates regularly with both. Her Washington, D.C.-area strategist Jon Lerner works for a pro-Rubio super PAC.
Bush helped raise money for Haley’s re-election campaign, and his father and brother, both former presidents, spoke to the governor over the past few weeks.
But establishment hopefuls, who normally win the GOP nomination, have languished in an election dominated by insurgent candidates.
New York billionaire Donald Trump is the favorite to win in South Carolina after his victory in New Hampshire. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the Iowa winner, is polling second in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday.
The New Hampshire primary last week did little to clarify the race behind front-runners.
Rubio was forecast to compete for a top-three finish. But he stumbled in a debate and came in fifth. Bush finished fourth in New Hampshire and has struggled to find traction in South Carolina where his father and brother won primaries en route to the White House.
In South Carolina this week, Rubio has gained in polls to challenge Cruz for second. Bush has fallen to fifth in South Carolina behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the second-place finisher in New Hampshire.
Haley was not expected to back either Trump, whom she has criticized for being combative, or Cruz, who some mainstream Republicans think could have a tough time winning the general election.
Haley supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. While the former Massachusetts governor won the Republican nomination, he lost the S.C. primary to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, breaking the state’s three-decade streak of favoring the candidate who landed on the November ballot.
Rubio has two top S.C. GOP endorsements — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston, the only African-American Republican in the senate, and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Spartanburg Republican who heads a special panel investigating the Benghazi attack.
Bush won the backing of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Seneca Republican who ended his presidential run two months ago.