GREENVILLE - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley boasted of her jobs record and for pushing back against the Obama administration as she opened her re-election bid Aug. 26 at a rally attended by three fellow Republican governors and hundreds of others.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker all blasted the federal government, saying South Carolina needs Haley to continue the fight against the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. The rally was followed by a private, high-dollar fundraiser with those potential presidential candidates in the ultra-conservative Upstate.
Haley's kick-off sets up a long-expected rematch between the incumbent and Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden. In 2010, Haley beat Sheheen by a margin of 51 percent to 47 percent of the ballot.
"Wait until you see what we do next," Haley said in closing the rally at the BI-LO Center, a Greenville arena. "We're going to continue to go forward until South Carolina is the best, strongest, most successful state in the country."
Democrats said the event with out-of-state governors shows Haley's focus is outside South Carolina. But Haley said she invited them because they are outspoken reformers in their own states.
"They're going to make up all kinds of excuses to distract from the fact that we have three awesome governors on stage with me in South Carolina supporting me," she said in an interview before the rally. "There's no negative you can find in that."
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott introduced the four governors. Unions and the federal health care law known as Obamacare were favorite topics of the governors.
"When unions tried to bully us, my heels got taller. We started kicking harder," Haley said. "When it came to Obamacare, we didn't just say no, we said never. We're going to keep on fighting until we get people like Scott and everybody else in Congress to defund Obamacare."
South Carolina has historically been one of the least unionized states. Still, Walker said the election represents a choice for who controls the state - taxpayers or the "big union bosses."
The event and fundraiser gave the visiting governors an opportunity to mingle with donors in the early primary state.
Beforehand, Jindal insisted he was there only to support Haley. But his six-minute speech focused on the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender.
"Is this administration the most liberal in our history or the most incompetent?" he asked to loud applause and shouts of "Both!" ''To quote Secretary Clinton, what difference does it make at this point? ... There is a rebellion. Nikki Haley is one of those leaders."
Perry, who was in South Carolina when he dropped out of his 2012 presidential bid, noted the states are in competition with each other for jobs. He said Haley makes South Carolina a tough competitor.
Several dozen Democrats protested the event. While Haley bragged that the unemployment rate is at a five-year low, Democrats countered that the 8.1 percent rate is still too high, and that workers lack good-paying jobs.
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said of the rally: "The governor cares more about the glam and glitz of bringing other governors to South Carolina than fixing issues in South Carolina."
"We're still at the very bottom when you look at the best states in the nation," Harrison said of South Carolina's employment figures.
As for Haley, he added: "She's out of touch. Vincent gets it."
Meanwhile, Haley used the presence of protesters to highlight her husband's service in Afghanistan. Capt. Michael Haley left in January for a yearlong mission to Afghanistan. His South Carolina Army National Guard group is working with Afghan farmers on practices to turn them away from growing poppies used to make opium.
"I appreciate you being up there because my husband is in Afghanistan right now fighting for you to be able to do that," Haley told the protesters. "I will always appreciate freedom of speech."
Haley said she decided to run for a second term after talking with her husband when he was home for his two-week leave in June.
Sheheen announced a second bid in April. No one else from either party has indicated plans to compete.
Haley's war chest for 2014 tops $2.4 million, compared to less than $600,000 cash that Sheheen had available at the end of June. But Sheheen outraised her in the second quarter, his first as an official candidate. Last Monday's fundraiser is sure to provide Haley a third-quarter boost.
Tickets to the fundraiser at a Greenville developer's home began at $1,000 a couple. For $3,500 per couple, attendees could arrive 30 minutes earlier and have photos taken with the governors. State law limits donations to statewide candidates to $3,500 per campaign cycle.
Walker is returning a favor to Haley with his first visit to South Carolina. She visited Wisconsin on his behalf during last year's recall.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another possible presidential contender, also was in the state Aug. 26 for a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.
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