She was born in small-town South Carolina, attended South Carolina schools and won election three times to the state legislature.
But in her surging campaign for governor, Nikki Haley has been tested far more than other candidates on her cultural connections to the state.
“As ugly and as tough as it has been,” said Katon Dawson, former state GOP chairman, “I think South Carolina Republicans are pretty proud of what’s going on right now.”
Like her three GOP rivals for the governor’s office, Mrs. Haley sat this spring for a videotaped interview with the Palmetto Patriots, a local activist group that aims to “fight attacks against Southern Culture” and talks with candidates “to ensure compliance with conservative values.”
But Mrs. Haley was the only one to be asked the freighted question of what she thought had caused the Civil War.
Members of the group were curious about Mrs. Haley’s views because of her heritage, said Robert Slimp, a Columbia, S.C., pastor who participated in the questioning. The group did not ask her rivals about the war, he said, because “all of them are Southerners whose families go back to beyond the war between the states, back to antebellum times, and they would have a deeper appreciation of Southern thinking and mentality.”
When Mrs. Haley first ran for the legislature in 2004, one of her campaign brochures said she was “proudly raised with her Indian traditions.” Still, her campaign has been sensitive to questions of race, and has chastised reporters for using the candidate’s full name, Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley.
Jerry Young, a Haley supporter who leads a social-services charity in Charleston, said he believed Mrs. Haley’s personal history was an advantage for her, politically. “With people being sick of politics-as-usual, I think that opened up a door that probably wouldn’t have been there before” he said. This year, Mrs. Haley’s biography gives her “a better chance than somebody that may look like a South Carolina politician.”
Mrs. Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants. She was born in Bamberg, S.C., population 3,400, at a time when her family members were the only Indians in town, according to Jamie Brabham, whose children played with Mrs. Haley and her siblings.
Mrs. Brabham said the whispers about race and religion were disgusting and only elevated Mrs. Haley in many voters’ minds.
“This child was born in this town,” Mrs. Brabham said. “She grew up here. . . . Come on! I thought we had climbed this mountain.”
Read the entire article here.