Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley hold joint rally at State House

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/ WCSC) - Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed the only woman candidate for governor in South Carolina and bypassing the politician who has spearheaded Arizona Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential primary campaign in the state.

Palin and Haley, both Republicans, appeared together at a public event Friday afternoon at the State House in Columbia. This is Palin's first-ever campaign stop in South Carolina, since she did not travel to the Palmetto State during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"It is a tremendous honor to receive Governor Palin's endorsement," Haley said. "Sarah Palin has energized the conservative movement like few others in our generation. She has helped millions of Americans find the power of their voice. I am extremely proud that she has offered her support to my candidacy."

Haley, an Indian-American and state representative from Lexington, badly trails her three Republican rivals in cash for the race and has only been able to get broad television exposure this week with the help of ReformSC, a group that bought television time statewide and spent a reported $400,000 on ads.

Haley's campaign cash at the end of March was one-third of her rivals', including apparent race leader and current state Attorney General Henry McMaster, a former state GOP chairman and Ronald Reagan's first appointee as a state federal prosecutor.

"This really could be a game changer for her," said Brian McGee, communications professor at the College of Charleston.

This endorsement should give Haley some momentum in a race that is tightening up amongst four candidates.

In a primary election, McGee said Haley and other candidates have to convince the most conservative members of the Republican Party, especially those in the Tea Party movement who are the most energized and the most likely to go to the polls.

Palin is popular with the Tea Party, so is this is good for Haley, he added.

Haley was also endorsed by former First Lady Jenny Sanford and former Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.

"We'll have to see if there is a momentary bump when newer tracking polls are available after this endorsement is announced and we'll have to see if it has staying power in the next few weeks," McGee said.

Haley is not the only candidate using endorsements to try and get ahead.

McMaster has been running ads touting his Reagan connection.

On the Democratic side, Vincent Sheheen was endorsed by former Governor Jim Hodges and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.

"Endorsements are tricky. You can love the endorser, yet still vote your heart and mind for a different candidate," McGee said.

"I'm not sure endorsements matter that much anymore, especially in a primary, especially someone from so far away even if it is Sarah Palin," said David Mann, who has been teaching state politics for more than 30 years.

Haley's problem will continue to be name recognition, which Andre Bauer and Mcmaster already have because of their roles as Lt. Governor and State Attorney General respectively.

Palin also riled conservatives last week when she endorsed former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in California's U.S. Senate race over their favorite, Chuck DeVore.

Prior to Columbia, Palin was also in Charlotte at an NRA event Friday.

Palin's endorsement may be a disappointment for McMaster, regarded by most as the Republican likely to earn a run-off birth because of his relatively high profile in state politics for close to two decades; that includes helping lead Arizona Sen. John McCain's South Carolina presidential primary campaigns.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, McMaster said his first choice to hit the campaign trail with him would be late President Ronald Reagan. Among the living? "I'd love to have Sarah Palin come in," McMaster said.

"We admire Governor Palin and join folks across the state in welcoming her to Columbia," McMaster spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a text message.

A former McCain staffer now working for a McMaster rival noted the twist.

"It's got to be a real gut-punch for the McMaster campaign on account of him serving on McCain for president," said B.J. Boling, a state McCain campaign spokesman who now works for rival U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett's gubernatorial campaign.

Behind in money or not, Haley keeps accruing visibility that other candidates are finding hard to match.

Before the Palin event Friday, Haley scheduled campaign stops with former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford in Charleston and Myrtle Beach and private events in Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

Haley's campaign may have been on better footing had it not been for Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's fall from grace. Haley remains a favorite for him, but Haley quickly distanced herself from the disgraced governor after he skipped the state for five days last June and reappeared to tearfully confess a yearlong extramarital affair with an Argentine woman.

It wrecked his marriage, political career, brought the first formal rebuke from the House in state history and resulting investigation led to record setting ethics fines.

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