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Nikki Haley poised to win nomination

Last updated on: June 22, 2010 14:57 IST

A conservative movement will sweep America, says Nikki Haley

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Indian-American Nikki Haley is the favourite to win the run-off for the Republican party's nomination in South Carolina's gubernatorial race on Tuesday.

Rediff.com's George Joseph and Paresh Gandhi traveled to the American state to track the rising star of the Republican Party a day before the run-off.

"A conservative movement is fast taking over the country. People want to know the value of the dollar and want accountability for their tax money," Nikki Haley tells a campaign event at the Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina.

"People want to be successful," says Haley who was born to Sikh parents and is now one of the Republican Party's rising stars.

"They want to be rewarded for their hard work. I know how blessed this country is. I want to ensure that nothing interferes with private enterprise," Haley, who won 49.5 per cent votes in the primary held two weeks ago, told Rediff.com

Since she did not cross the 50 per cent mark to win the primary, a run-off between the top two vote getters is scheduled for Tuesday.

Haley faces United States Congressman Gresham Barrett, who received only 22 per cent of the votes in the primary, in Tuesday's run-off. Haley is widely expected to win the election by a big margin.

Since South Carolina is a predominantly Republican state, Haley is also expected to win the November general election against Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen.

If she wins in November, Haley will be the second Indian-American to be governor of an American state after Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, not a small achievement for a community which accounts for less than one per cent of the entire American population.


Image: Nikki Haley speaks at a meeting at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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'Haley represents the peoples' aspirations'

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"What we have seen last Tuesday was an amazing thing as you took someone with no name and no money," Nikki Haley tells the meeting in Florence the day before the election. "It is part of a movement to take the government back to the people. We will not stop until elected officials work for the people."

Haley, who is considered one of the fresh faces in conservative politics in the US, strongly opposes President Barack Obama and his liberal policies like healthcare reform.

"It is reminding elected officials that they are not spending the government's money, but the people's money," she adds.

People of all ages turned up at the rally to support the Republican Party's rising star. "We don't look at the national origin of a person," says Harriet McCuteheron, who is of Polish extraction. "Haley represents the values and people's aspirations. Accusations during election time is not uncommon. Nobody is perfect, only god is perfect," the voter points out.

State Attorney General Henry McMaster, one of the four candidates who lost to Haley in the primary, attended the Florence event with the front-runner.

"All across the state the people are excited and the officials are scared. It is a beautiful thing," Haley tells the gathering. "We want all spending to be put online. Everything should be transparent and nothing is hidden. We have a Republican-controlled House, Senate (in South Carolina) and a Republican governor. We will not stop until we get a conservative House, a conservative Senate and a conservative governor."


Image: Nikki Haley and Henry McMaster at the event
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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Nikki Haley may be Methodist, but she still wears a kada

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Haley, whose parents and a sibling are still Sikhs, says she manages to withstand the pressures and stress of a campaign because of her faith (she had said she is Methodist Christian) and her family.

"I have strong faith, an amazing husband and a loving family around me," she adds.

Her husband Michael Haley, an officer in the South Carolina National Guard, was present at the event in Florence. He told Rediff.com that he "expected Nikki to win by a good margin."

Though politics is stressful and the family loses much of its privacy, he said he had never discouraged his wife from running for public office.

Though she looks very American, Haley wears gold bangles and a silver kada -- a Sikh symbol.


Image: Haley and McMaster address the media
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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Racist slurs didn't deter Haley

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McMaster said Haley would make an excellent governor and said he endorsed his former rival because she represented the conservative ideology.

"There's a new spirit blowing across South Carolina," McMaster said. "This is going to have to be a unified effort; a divided house cannot stand."

During the earlier campaign two men alleged that they had a physical relationship with Haley, charges which she denied. She has promised to resign if these allegations are proved. Will Folks, one of the accusers, has endorsed Haley.

South Carolina state Senator Jake Knotts too stirred a controversy after he said he did not want a 'rag head' in the governor's mansion as the country already had one in the White House. Knotts's remark was widely condemned as an insult to the Sikh community which Haley was born to. Haley said she converted to Christianity after marriage.


Image: Haley's silver kada is seen as she greets voters at the meeting
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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