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Posted at 4:47 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Nikki Haley offers hints at 2012 endorsement

By Aaron Blake

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Newly minted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will be endorsing in the 2012 GOP presidential race. And while she won't say whom just yet, it sounds like at least a few candidates have some work to do earning her support.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Haley offered praise for Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Haley Barbour, among others.

When it came to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, though, she suggested his best years may be behind him.

"There was a place and time for him," Haley said. "I think that there is a respect for him that he's been there and done that."

When asked whether she was saying Gingrich's time had passed, Haley laughed it off.

"Don't read into my words," she said. "You know, I'm just being very honest with you."

Haley's endorsement will carry significant weight given the state's prominence in the presidential nominating process. It is slated to be one of the first four states to hold its primary.

That makes her a woman lots of people will want to get to know. And already, she's spoken with many potential 2012 presidential candidates making swings through her state.

The most likely recipients of Haley's endorsement would seem to be Palin and Romney, who each endorsed Haley in her long shot 2010 GOP primary campaign. Palin's endorsement, in particular, gave Haley a shot in the arm at the exact time she needed it, and Haley endorsed Romney in the 2008 presidential campaign.

But Haley insists she's not favoring anybody in 2012 and won't engage in any kind of political payback.

"Not at all," she said. "That is something that I will always be appreciative of and grateful for, but this is not a quid pro quo."

Haley declined to criticize Romney for a health care bill he instituted as governor of Massachusetts, but she did say that "what governor Romney thought is right for Massachusetts is not right for South Carolina."

Haley didn't weigh in directly on Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, but she appeared to sympathize with him on one issue.

Daniels has earned the ire of some social conservatives for suggesting Republicans declare a "truce" on social issues while the country deals with its economic troubles. Haley said those social issues will always be a part of the GOP platform, but that they should be on the back burner when it comes to the 2012 presidential campaign.

"From my perspective, I don't think we have the luxury of being able to debate social issues like we used to," Haley said.

Haley said she has exchanged e-mails with Palin, but that the contact between the two has been limited -- as it has always been. She noted that she hadn't heard from Palin's team for a year before the former Alaska governor's husband, Todd, called and offered the endorsement.

As for her own national ambitions, Haley deflected talk that she would be on anyone's short list for vice president.

The talk percolated even before she won her race in November. After the young, attractive and tea party-friendly Indian-American state representative beat three more established white male politicians in the primary, Haley's stock rose quickly.

She said she needs to focus on being a good governor first and suggested such speculation is fleeting. The more important thing, she said, is getting the best nominee at the top of the GOP ticket.

"It's not about the flavor of the month," Haley said. "You've got to be focused on the top of the ticket first."

By Aaron Blake  | February 28, 2011; 4:47 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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