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EVEN BEFORE DATA BREACH SCANDAL, FIRST TERM “REPUBLICAN” WAS FACING A TOUGH REELECTION FIGHT

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley faces an uphill battle if she hopes to win a second term as governor of the Palmetto State, consultants of both parties tell FITS.  And Haley’s mishandling of a major scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars – and reams of confidential taxpayer and business data – isn’t helping her case.

It’s obviously been several months since Haley’s approval ratings were last gauged via a public survey, but several recent internal polls reportedly show little “yeast” in the governor’s numbers since this spring.

Based on polling and focus group research collected prior to the 2012 general election (and prior to the massive data breach that rocked Haley’s Department of Revenue) – a pair of Palmetto political operatives (one Republican, one Democrat) have concluded that Haley is vulnerable in a GOP primary election.  They also say she’s likely to lose a general election against a credible Democratic opponent.

Both agreed that Haley’s approval rating among all registered voters in South Carolina was in the low forty percent range prior to the SCDOR scandal, while her approval rating among Republicans was in the mid-sixty percent range.  If a GOP primary were held today, these partisans agree, Haley would win.  However were she to face Democrat Vincent Sheheen again (or a comparable foe) in a general election, she would lose.

Obviously those predictions are based on existing impressions – i.e. before any money is spent on paid media that aims to educate voters regarding what a colossal disappointment Haley has been on virtually every issue she’s addressed since taking office last January.

“She’s between 5-7 percentage points away from having some real problems in a primary,” our Republican strategist speculated, adding that if the SCDOR scandal continues to drag Haley down in the press, she could be “ripe for the picking” in a primary.

It’s been conventional wisdom for some time now that Haley will face a primary opponent in 2014 – and that this challenge will come from the ideological right.  In fact given the extent to which Haley has been blowing tax dollars (and alienating fiscal conservatives and Tea Partiers), it would be virtually impossible for anyone to run against her from the left in a GOP primary.

Assuming Haley wins the GOP nod, though, that’s when her troubles really begin.

According to the strategists we spoke with, Haley’s numbers are exceedingly weak among independents – especially in the Charleston region of the state.  Focus group research has reportedly also revealed that Haley’s supporters aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to reelect her.

“Her voters aren’t motivated,” our Republican consultant acknowledged.  “And they express many of the same doubts (regarding) her character that Democrats and independents express.”

All of that spells real trouble for Haley in a general election.

Also, sources tell FITS that Democrats are actively working to ensure that there is no Green Party candidate on the ballot in 2014 – as there was in 2010.  The presence of such a candidate resulted in a three percent swing in Haley’s favor – which was not quite enough to hand the election to the Democrat, but close.

Finally, speculation is mounting that there will be some sort of libertarian-leaning challenge to Haley in the general election as well.

If such a challenge materializes – and draws even a small percentage of the vote – it could spell doom for Haley’s reelection bid.

Our prediction? Haley will face a credible primary challenge as well as a third party challenge from the right in the general election.  We also expect Haley to start tacking back hard to the right any day now … hoping that South Carolinians have short memories.

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