Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Once Thought Vulernable, Nikki Haley Looks Poised For A Big Win – But There’s A Caveat…

Photo courtesy of the A.P.

There was a time when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley looked like she would have serious trouble in her bid for reelection, even as recently as this June.

Her problem was multipronged. First, she was never elected by an overwhelming mandate to begin with, kind of stumbling across the finish line in 2010 with an anti-climactic 51-47% victory during an incredibly favorable election cycle. That somewhat meek level of support transferred over into Haley's job approval ratings. Then came her frequent quarrels with the South Carolina legislature, a feature of her tenure which began early on after announcing she would be issuing "report cards" to S.C. lawmakers on criteria determined by her, and culminated in the summer of 2012 when the Republican legislature overrode a number of Haley's budget vetoes.

And of course, who can forget the proverbial cherry-on-top of her first two years in office - the hacking of four million South Carolinian's social security numbers.

All of those missteps aside, more recent events would tend to suggest that Haley is going to weather the storm.

Not long ago, Haley took the opportunity to barnstorm the state, bragging about future business investments that are expected to bring lots of job creation to South Carolina. Couple that with a steady unemployment rate decline from 10.5% upon taking office in January 2011, to 6.4% as of September, and a smoothly handled Senate confirmation process for the newly appointed (and popular) Sen. Tim Scott, Haley seems back in the game.

And polling bears that out.

A base that once appeared unsure of Haley from a polling perspective, has returned home in full. Republicans aren't the only ones to take note of Haley's accomplishments. Her job approval rating with ALL South Carolinians is the highest its ever been. Sixty-two percent of likely voters say the state's economic condition is getting better, versus just thirty percent who say it's getting worse.

Then come the head-to-head numbers, which seem to look better everyday. After starting out trailing her Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen in a 2012 poll, she's been ahead in every survey since. She's ahead by double-digits in practically all of the non-Democratic Party affiliated polls of likely voters. Gov. Haley leads 49-37% in the Ace Of Spades Decision Desk average, leads 50-38% in the Huffington Post Pollster average, and leads 50-37% in the Real Clear Politics average.

What was once referred to as a "top priority state" for the Democratic Governor's Association, certainly can't be called that now, at least not based on recent DGA ad spending:
"The Democratic Governors Association has spent a total of $5.1 million in just four states, with South Carolina's $260,000 ranking last, behind Michigan, Arkansas and Connecticut."
It's virtually impossible to say Haley is not performing stronger than the DGA, and indeed many Republicans, predicted she would after the so-called calamity of her first few years in office. Yet aside from the rosy picture, Republicans would be foolish to forget what happened in 2010, and could happen again.

As noted three paragraphs above, Haley is leading Sheheen by about 12-13 points, according to the aggregation models, with just 20 days left until the election. But she enjoyed a nearly identical advantage in the final 2010 Pollster average (they forecasted a 9-pt, 48-39% win by the Republican). The Real Clear Politics final 2010 average gave Haley an 11-pt lead. Remember, she won by just less than 4.5 points.

Regardless, Haley is the clear favorite in her rematch with Sheheen this November. Though her 2010 victory was closer than expected, there was no confusion about who won. Her polling advantage is stronger now than at this point in 2010, even if ever so slightly. She's better positioned from a polling perspective than many of her Republican colleagues up for reelection this year, including another female Governor that was swept into office in the Tea Party wave of 2010, and whose name has more often been batted around as a possible 2016 presidential contender - Susana Martinez of New Mexico. And as a campaign spokesman has noted before, Haley now has a record of job creation and unemployment reduction to back her up.

But if election night 2010 was any indication of what we could see on November 4, 2014, be prepared to be a little surprised by the South Carolina governor results. Polling averages aren't infallible.

Though if Haley finally does nab a double-digit win, expect chatter like this about 2016 presidential ambitions to grow louder.

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