By JONATHAN MARTIN, Politico
CONWAY, S.C. â€” Nikki Haley, the 38-year-old Indian-American political phenom who might be South Carolinaâ€™s next governor, downplays the two attributes that would make her different from her 115 predecessors.
When asked whether someone of her profile, the daughter of immigrants, could have been elected to statewide office when she was growing up here, she has a ready and artful answer.
â€œI think the timing is right, where people realize this is about issues,â€ Haley said in an interview. â€œItâ€™s not about gender; itâ€™s not about race.â€
Yet the pink T-shirts some of her supporters wore Monday morning, a day before the Republican gubernatorial runoff, to a rally at a Main Street cafe here, tell a different story.
â€œIf you want something said, ask a man,â€ read the Margaret Thatcher quote on the back of the â€œHaley for Governorâ€ shirt. â€œIf you want something done, ask a woman.â€
The two messages may seem contradictory â€” avoiding explicit identity politics while harnessing the energy it has undoubtedly produced â€” but itâ€™s precisely the finely calibrated mix that has vaulted the third-term Republican state representative and accountant to the verge of national political stardom.
Haley has undoubtedly reaped the benefit of being a woman in a state that has few in elected office. And sheâ€™s done so by tapping into the desire of half the population to finally see one of their own in high office without making the sort of direct appeals that could turn off the deeply conservative GOP electorate here.
What by South Carolinaâ€™s traditional rules should have been her most glaring weaknesses â€” her status as both a woman and a minority â€” have turned out to help her as much as hurt her.
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