For the two weeks leading up to January's S.C. Republican primary, presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley were seemingly inseparable.
They appeared together at events in Romney's adopted home state of New Hampshire, as well as multiple events across the Palmetto State: she was campaigning with her husband after her endorsment in mid-December, she was on the stage in Charleston when former VP candidate John McCain mistakenly called Romney by the name Obama and she repeated the mistake herself on her birthday, the day before the primary at a Greenville event.
But when Romney, leading in the state's polls throughout January until four days before the Jan. 21 vote, took the stage that night to congratulate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on his victory — his only to this point — Haley was nowhere to be seen, instead staying home to celebrate her 40th birthday with her family.
I noticed that too! But I assumed that it was Haley's decision, that she didn't want to be seen with the loser and have those indelible images posted for all eternity on the internet, like the shots of her with ol' Sarah Palin.
So it was really Romney's choice?
And she's been absent ever since.
Instead of stumping for Romney through other important Southern states, where her name recognition would be high, Haley has stayed at home while heavy campaigning has taken place in Florida, Georgia and Virginia. Other prominent national Republicans — including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — have taken her place.
Haley, through her spokesman Rob Godfrey, said that she remains in contact with the Romney campaign and plans to continue campaigning for Romney.
Remains in contact. Have you spent any time in our criminal courts recently? The dockets are full of cases of men or women trying to "remain in contact" with their former boyfriends or girlfriends after some acrimony. Judges call that harrassment or stalking, and sometimes they issue restraining orders against it. Is Her Man Godfrey trying to say that Haley is having difficulty giving up on that relationship? Our governor?
The governor's office also points to local responsibilities as the main reason she has been absent from any Romney campaign stops for the past six weeks.
News flash: There were plenty of local responsibilities to hold the governor's attention during those two long weeks in arctic New Hampshire, and during those ten long days that Haley spent escorting Mr. Inevitable from Greenville to Charleston. Those local responsibilities weren't enough to tear her away from her political meal ticket then, so why now, if it isn't that Mr. Inevitable has declared her Ms. Unnecessary?
"South Carolina is on the cusp of passing the largest government restructuring bill in two decades — that, our budget, and economic development is where the Governor's focus has been since the South Carolina presidential primary," Godfrey said in a statement.
Is that it? We need her more than Romney does? Forgive the chuckling in the background, but I somewhat doubt that. If the past decade has demonstrated one thing to the kiddies in South Carolina, it's that we're perfectly capable of running things without an effective governor, or his or her presence in Columbia. Uh, does the Appalachian Trail ring a bell?
We're on "the cusp," he says. The cusp. Such words. How about "the precipice"?
Comparable conflicts, like a pair of controversial abortion bills in Virginia and a gay marriage debate in New Jersey, haven't kept McDonnell and Christie off the trail, but Haley's office insists she will still play a role in the campaign.
"We're in constant contact with the Romney campaign," Godfrey said, "the governor intends to continue to campaign for him both before and after he's the Republican nominee, and her belief that he is the right person to occupy the White House is unwavering."
Uh-oh. We're veering into "Fatal Attraction" territory here: "I won't be ignored, Dan -- er, Mitt!"
Your Honor, what I'm doing is not harrassment or stalking. It's just that I know deep down in my heart that we're right for each other, and I'm willing to be patient until he realizes it too, but I have to keep letting him know that I'm here, so he doesn't forget what we once had -- and what we're destined to have again, forever.
Romney's campaign office did not return multiple phone calls and emails asking for plans to use Haley moving forward. And former S.C. House Speaker David Wilkins, another prominent Romney supporter, declined to comment on Haley's apparent lack of campaign involvement.
Ooh, that has to sting. Former House Speaker David Wilkins won't comment on Haley's status in the Romney campaign? Former Ambassador to Canada Wilkins, who has former President George W. Bush on speed dial? He's still in, but she's out?
College of Charleston Political Science Professor Kendra Stewart said the reason Haley has disappeared from the campaign trail may have to do with her novelty wearing off.
"There was initially a lot of interest in her," Stewart said. "She was new, a woman who was able to capture the top elected office in South Carolina, but a lot of that has died down as the national party tries to prop up their candidates."
This sounds an awful lot like an assessment of the gubernatorial campaign of 2010. Haley was a novelty, there was initially a lot of interest, she got a lot of attention, then she won office and, whoops, South Carolinians got a big case of buyer's remorse. Conservative temple priests like John Rainey start asking uncomfortable questions. Former employers start telling inconvenient truths. Angry, double-crossed lawmakers reveal backroom deal-cutting. Facebook friends post barbed comments and get unfriended. It's a mess.
What's shocking, really, is that Romney wanted to swim in that tainted pool at all.
Stewart said that Haley doesn't have as much in the way of leadership experience as some of the other big names lining up behind candidates on the campaign trail, and that is a potential reason she has fallen out of the spotlight now that the race has moved on from South Carolina.
"The other names popping up tend to have lots more leadership experience because that's one area where (Pres. Barack) Obama is polling the weakest, so they are looking for people with a lot more leadership experience," Stewart said. "They're looking for someone who can beat Obama in that area."
Oh, the unkindest cut of all! A comparison of inexperience between former U.S. Senator Barack Obama and Haley! Yikes. Medic!
The only thing worse than that would be to craft a reference to our governor using some Britney Spears lyrics!
At least one S.C. Democrat says the reason Haley is no longer at Romney's side is obvious.
“She’s absolutely toxic,” Democratic strategist Tyler Jones. “[The primary] exposed her. She’s the second most unpopular governor in the South and the national media didn’t realize that until they got into South Carolina.”
Can anything be worse?
Jones said Haley’s fluctuating national reputation mimicked that of another female governor.
“The more people get to know Nikki Haley, the less they like her,” Jones said. “That’s sort of the same with Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.”
“You will not see Nikki Haley on the same stage as Mitt Romney again this primary season,” Jones added. “She might be able to raise money behind closed doors but the Romney campaign will not allow her to take a role in the campaign if he has any desire to win.”
How the mighty have fallen.
Stewart at the College of Charleston, meanwhile, sees some truth to Jones' assessment of Haley.
"Her endorsement of Romney didn't carry much weight with South Carolina voters," Stewart said. "That is indicative of her standing with South Carolina voters."
"She's not that popular at home now."
Stewart said Haley is making some of the mistakes that her predecessor Gov. Mark Sanford made in alienating legislators in the General Assembly. While Haley can point to the government restructuring bill, if it passes, as a win, she has burned many bridges already in the S.C. House and Senate.
"It's hard to rise any higher nationally if you can't get support at home," Stewart said. "And she's not making a lot of friends in the legislature."
Stewart said Haley has some popular ideas, but she has yet to be able to convert them into policies. She said people in the state are also getting tired Haley consistently turning down federal money available to the state, and her apparent refusal to listen to anyone who does not agree with her, and points to a recent Post and Courier article about Haley deleting Facebook comments that were critical of her.
"If she's not listening to anyone, that could hurt her re-election chances," Stewart said.
Governor, now might be the time to buck up, admit some neglect and misplaced priorities, and get on board behind South Carolina's 700,000 public schoolchildren. They could use a governor in their corner right now, because they haven't had one there in a long time.