While national Republicans are busy advancing state Rep. Nikki Haley’s bid for governor of South Carolina, much of the state GOP establishment is working furiously to torpedo her chances in the June 22 runoff. Gresham Barrett, the GOP congressman backed by a high-priced team of veteran consultants, has launched a two-week, take-no-prisoners assault to defeat her. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who came in a distant fourth in the Republican primary, has endorsed Barrett. So has the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. And some of her statehouse colleagues, after eight tumultuous years of Gov. Mark Sanford, are determined to stop Haley — a Sanford protégé — from taking the top job. It’s an unusual spectacle: a rare instance in which state and national GOP interests are utterly divergent and at odds.
South Carolina political insiders are siding with Barrett for a different reason — they expect a Haley victory would result in another toxic legislative-executive relationship, with more statehouse gridlock. Some observers believe the state GOP establishment’s resistance to Haley could play into her hands, resonating with voters who are in an anti-incumbent mood and sick of Columbia’s politics as usual. Haley herself appears to understand that and has been hammering anti-establishment themes.