South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ended weeks of speculation when she endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of the state's primary vote on Saturday. Now Palmetto State politicos are watching to see what effect it has on the electorate.
At a campaign rally in Chapin, South Carolina Wednesday evening, Haley told a crowd of Rubio supporters she wanted a president who would go to Washington, D.C. and "bring a conscience back to our Republicans."
"Our Republicans need to remember what we're about," Haley said. "Balanced budgets, cutting debt, building reserves, and making sure that they understand that this guy is all about term limits in D.C."
"That's what we want to see in a president," Haley added.
The Rubio campaign rolled out a television ad featuring Haley almost immediately.
Oran P. Smith, president and CEO of the conservative group Palmetto Family told AMI Newswire that Haley's endorsement is a definite positive for Rubio, but it's unclear whether it will translate into votes for his candidacy.
"Nikki Haley is very popular, and her responses to the Charleston massacre, the Confederate flag controversy, and her stand against higher fuel taxes, and for income tax cuts has endeared her to most everyone," he said.
"However, the the question is does an endorsement translate into votes for Rubio," he said, adding that "Even if it translates into only a few votes there is still a chance that her endorsement could be what is needed to move Rubio to the second slot," ahead of the current number two in South Carolina polls, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Heartland Institute senior fellow and former Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Robert Holland, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, told AMI Newswire Haley's decision was probably reach by process of elimination.
"I'm pretty sure she figured on teaming with Jeb when this process started," Holland said, "but his campaign looks moribund."
Smith agreed. "I don't think George W. Bush's appearance in Charleston before only a thousand people really helped Jeb that much," he said. "W is popular. Jeb is unpopular."
As for another alternative, like Sen. Cruz, Holland said, "Cruz has a strong following and would she want to be in middle of the epic Trump/Cruz mudslinging?"
As AMI Newswire has reported, the campaigns of Ted Cruz and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump have been embroiled in a war of words over a television ad from the Cruz campaign challenging Trump's commitment to pro-life policies. Trump has threatened legal action unless Cruz pulls the ad, a challenge the Cruz campaigned rebuffed in a press conference on Wednesday.
Smith said fighting between the Cruz and Trump camps is getting real interest with voters.
"I believe the Cruz-Trump spat over the commercial is resonating very well," he said. "However, most of the polls are showing there is still nearly a quarter of the vote undecided, so we will see where those votes go."
"Perhaps," Smith said, "Nikki Haley could affect those voters."
It's an assessment Will Folks, editor of the widely read South Carolina political website "FITSNews" generally believes to be true.
"Look at the aggregate polling at the moment Nikki endorsed Marco," he said. "Marco was pulling ahead of Cruz anyway."
In the Real Clear Politics average of polls conducted in advance of South Carolina's primary, Trump still leads the field with 33.5 percent, but that is down from 36.3 percent on Monday, the day on which Trump first threatened legal action against Cruz.
Cruz's polling average has remained relatively flat since Monday's dust-up, falling from 17.8 percent on Monday, to 17.4 percent Thursday. He is still in second place.
Rubio's average has grown over the same period. On Monday, Rubio stood at 15.8 percent. After Haley's endorsement Wednesday, he rose to 16.9 percent by Thursday.
Holland says Haley could help magnify the polling trend.
"Nikki is campaigning with Rubio these final few days," he said. "But Sen. Tim Scott has been with Rubio for weeks, and they've made a very effective team."
"Rubio also has the endorsement of Congressman Tom Rice, and numerous local mayors," Holland said. "I think if you add all this together, he gets something of a bounce, and possibly edges Cruz as they both narrow the gap with Trump."
For its part, the Cruz campaign has raised expectations -- for Rubio.
Former California GOP Party Chairman and Cruz national surrogate Ron Nehring Tweeted that "Rubio's "3-2-1" strategy requires winning SC. With Scott and Haley endorsements, need for him to win even greater."