COLUMBIA, SC (AP/WIS) - South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster Tuesday endorsed state Rep. Nikki Haley in the Republican primary runoff for governor.
Haley joined McMaster at the campaign headquarters his staff was shutting down. "I'm all in," McMaster said as he pledged to do all he could to elect Haley by rallying support and cash for her campaign.
"And we have an opportunity to be a leader in the country in the conservative cause," McMaster said as they were surrounded by reporters and a small crowd mostly consisting of campaign staff. McMaster finished third in the GOP primary last week that Haley nearly won outright with 49 percent of the vote.
McMaster said he'd expected to be picking up an endorsement from Haley, but found the roles reversed. "It just happens that this was one of the years when another candidate had the formula that excited the voters and boy did she excite them," McMaster said.
The former state Republican Party chairman said it was time to put South Carolina and her peoples' interests above self interests and called for unity heading into the fall election. "And that process of unification for me - and I hope for others - begins now and that's why I'm here."
Haley faces U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett in the June 22 runoff. Barrett mustered 22 percent of the vote and isn't leaving the race. McMaster said he's not encouraging Barrett to drop out.
"I would not presume to give advice to another candidate of that nature," McMaster said, while saying voters should rally behind Haley. "If Miss Haley does not win this election in the fall, then we will have problems."
Haley was pleased to get McMaster's endorsement. "I love that Henry's joining the movement today," said Haley. "I love the fact we're going to work together to bring a new day to South Carolina."
Gresham Barrett's camp on its website Tuesday characterized the McMaster endorsement as Haley, "showcasing her new-found establishment support."
In an email, spokesperson Robert Hughes said, "It is just another example of Representative Haley's rhetoric not matching her actions, when in the course of a week she's gone from attacking Henry McMaster as a career politician to touting his endorsement."
Barrett Tuesday was rallying support in Charleston and at the Statehouse while trying to bring aboard McMaster supporters as well as Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's. The two-term lieutenant governor finished fourth in the contest and threw his support to Barrett. Barrett also has picked up the endorsement of state Sen. Larry Grooms, a Bonneau Republican who exited the governor's race in January.
Along the way, Barrett picked up the nod from GOP and tea party leaders and activists along the coast, a key area for Republican turnout.
The Democrats responded to the endorsement Tuesday afternoon.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler said in a statement, "It's no surprise to South Carolinians that Henry McMaster would endorse Nikki Haley today. Mrs. Haley proudly represents the Republican Party establishment in South Carolina. As a devoted student of Mark Sanford's School of Political Ideology, she would continue to promote the same failed policies and agenda of the Sanford/McMaster administration. South Carolina voters are tired of the GOP establishment and ready to take our state in a different direction under the leadership of Vincent Sheheen," said Fowler.