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 a 2016 GOP presidential candidate. She did not provide a timetable for a decision and did not rule out foregoing an endorsement.
“I’m doing what I think a lot of people in South Carolina are doing, which is I watched the debate (on Saturday in Greenville), I’m trying to go through all the situations, I’m looking at all the different candidates that are there, and I’m trying to figure out who that person would be,” she told reporters at the S.C. State House. “The decision is whether an endorsement would matter, and whether I jump out there or stay out of it.”
Haley said she wants a candidate who will keep the country safe and understands the problems that states face with federal regulations.
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“I want someone who will hold Republicans accountable,” she added.
Haley said she is getting phone calls “non-stop” from presidential candidates and their supporters. Former President George W. Bush, brother of GOP hopeful Jeb Bush, visited Haley Monday.
The governor declined to say who is on her short list, but she ruled out backing GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
The New York billionaire criticized Haley Monday, saying she had failed 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 into the state and protesting the possibility of moving Guantanamo prisoners to South Carolina.
“It’s unfortunate when a candidate comes into South Carolina and doesn’t know South Carolina’s issues,” Haley said Tuesday, referring to Trump’s comments.
Haley added she already deals with a president who battles states for authority, Democrat Barack Obama, and that Trump’s comments were “quite Obama-like.”
Haley’s backing is considered a good catch for a presidential prospect. She is one of the state’s most popular Republican politicians and a rising national GOP star.
Haley become a favorite to make GOP vice presidential short lists for her handling of last year’s Charleston slayings and her successful call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Last month, the 44-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants gave the nationally televised Republican response to the Obama’s State of the Union address.
Speculation has centered on Haley backing one of the GOP establishment candidates, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or former Florida Gov. Bush.
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. Bush’s father and brother, both former presidents, also have spoken to Haley in the past few weeks.
But establishment hopefuls, who normally win the GOP nomination, have languished in an primary season dominated by insurgent candidates.
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 advance of South Carolina’s GOP primary Saturday.
S.C. polls this week show Rubio gaining, challenging Cruz for second. But Bush has fallen to fifth, trailing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished second in New Hampshire.
Haley never was expected to back Trump, whom she has criticized for being combative. She also is considered unlikely to support Cruz, whose hardline social conservative views worry some mainstream Republicans concerned about winning the November general election.
Haley supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. While the former Massachusetts governor won the GOP nomination, he lost the S.C. primary to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, breaking the state’s three-decade streak of voting for the candidate who landed on the November ballot.
Rubio has nabbed 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, the Spartanburg Republican who heads a panel investigating the Benghazi attack.
Bush has won the backing of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Seneca Republican who ended his presidential run two months ago.