Is Mitt Romney making inroads with the Tea Party? That at least seems to be the implication of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of him today. Haley had promised to make up her mind before Iowa, and apparently Gingrich’s high poll numbers in her state weren’t enough to win her over:
“Today is the day that I’m throwing all of my support behind Mitt Romney for president,” Haley said on FOX & Friends. ”What I want was someone who is not part of the chaos that is Washington. What I wanted was someone who knew what it was like to turn broken companies around.”
Haley also argued that Romney was the only candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama next fall.
For someone with Tea Party credibility like Haley, it’s useless to try to argue for Romney on the grounds that he’s the true conservative in the race. Movement conservatives will not buy it. But electability is a legitimate issue, and if Haley can make the case that Romney is just as conservative (if not more so) than Gingrich – and has a better chance of getting elected – then that could encourage Tea Partiers to take another look at Romney.
Haley’s support for Romney is also a loss for both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, who she’s praised in the past, and who could have really used her endorsement in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses. Both candidates were impressive in the debate last night, but the fact that Haley overlooked them may be an acknowledgment that she can’t see them on a path to the nomination.
The South Carolina governor is quickly jumping into her role as a Romney surrogate, and has already recorded a robocall for him in her state. It will be interesting to see how this impacts Gingrich’s 20-point lead (according to the RCP average) in the South Carolina polls.