OTR Interviews

What South Carolinians Are Looking for in a GOP Presidential Candidate

'On the Record' - On the Trail: Mitt Romney supporter Gov. Nikki Haley says she and the residents of her state need a partner in Washington


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 6, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: It is the first-in-the-South primary, South Carolina, and the Palmetto state will be a key test for the GOP candidates. Front- runner Governor Mitt Romney's already campaigning there, and the fight for the state's socially conservative voters may be his biggest challenge yet. So what are South Carolina voters really looking for? And will the candidates have to do anything differently to get their vote?

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley joins us. Hello, Governor.


VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well. Nice to see you, Governor. And I know you've endorsed Governor Mitt Romney, but I want to ask you sort of big- picture questions about your state. How is your state's voter -- voters -- how are they different from New Hampshire and Iowa, do you think?

HALEY: You know, I think you'll find that the issues that affect South Carolina are the issues we're facing all across the country. It is jobs, spending and the economy. People want to know that elected officials remember who it is that they work for. People want to know that government understands the value of a dollar. They want to know that there's a president that's going to go into Washington, fix the chaos that's Washington, D.C., and get people back to work. Those are the issues that South Carolina cares about, and the issues that the country cares about.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we always generalize about states, and people say that New Hampshire's more moderate, for instance, but that your state is far more conservative, which creates sort of a bigger risk for some of the more moderate members of your party. Do you think that that -- is that a fair generalization about your state?

HALEY: We have a conservative state that really pays attention to the issues. They understand that spending caps matter. They understand that keeping your fiscal house in order matters. They understand that jobs and the economy and allowing the private sector to work matters.

And that is why we've been campaigning with Governor Romney for the last couple of days in South Carolina. We started a couple weeks ago, and we're getting the message out that here is a man who has taken broken companies and fixed them. Here's a man who took a failed Olympics and made it a source of pride for our country. And here's a man that went into the state of Massachusetts, cut taxes 19 times, balanced their budget with an 85 percent Democrat legislature. We need somebody that has not had anything to do with Washington. He fits that mold. He fits the issues. And South Carolina is responding.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about the Tea Party in South Carolina? Any -- this is sort of new to this election cycle. We had it in the last election cycle, in the mid-terms. But I'm curious, is -- is the Tea Party -- is that an influential element of the vote this time in South Carolina?

HALEY: The Tea Party's always going to be influential. But what people need to understand about the Tea Party is they are a combination of Republicans, Democrats and independents who've had enough with Washington. They are tired of the old Washington that doesn't listen to the people. They're tired of the spending that's out of control. They want to see their friends and their families get jobs again.

And so that's what you're seeing with the Tea Party. They do care about the value of the dollar. They do care about conservatism. And so they are always going to have a strength in South Carolina and in the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the population of South Carolina, have any sort of feeling of what's -- what percentage of Republican and what's Democratic and what would fall in that category of independent?

HALEY: I think it's about 55-45, is what we've always kind of assumed it is. It's about a 10 percent higher Republican population. We're at 5 million now. We just gained a new congressional seat. So South Carolina has changed a lot, but it's still people that love their country, love their military and want to see Washington bring us back to the country that we used to be.

And they're looking for a strong president, but they're looking for somebody with courage. They're looking for somebody that's going to bring pride back to this country. And they're not going to settle. And so we're excited about the huge crowds we've been getting in South Carolina. The energy in South Carolina has just been amazing the last couple of days when we campaigned. And so we're excited about what's going to happen.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the strategy, do you think that Governor Perry's decision to at least stay in the race -- some people wondered whether he'd get out after Iowa -- does he cut into Senator Rick Santorum's vote? I mean, if he left the race, would that vote be Senator Rick Santorum or would it be Governor Romney or go to Speaker Gingrich, do you think?

HALEY: I don't know exactly what that is. I'm not a political analyst, so I'm not going to try and do that. What I can tell us that we've got good candidates in the field, and now is the time where they are really listening to the issues. They're paying attention to what they're saying. And I think what you are seeing is the polls in South Carolina, all the polls that came out today, show Governor Romney in first place, and I think it's because his message is resonating.

And we are going to continue to see all the candidates fight hard. We're going to see all the candidates give their -- give their talking points and really meet the people and shake their hands, and that's what they should do. There is no candidate that's going to have an easy ride in South Carolina. You come into South Carolina, you've got to work. You've got to work by shaking hands. You've got to work by proving that it's not what you say it's going to be, what you do and results matter to the people in South Carolina.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think has changed? I know you've endorsed Governor Romney, as I said at the outset. But he came in fourth last time, in 2008. And now he is doing well in the polls, at least, you know, this - - fleeting -- it seems to be a rather -- polls seem to be rather fluid. But what do you think is the difference this year from four years ago for Governor Romney there?

HALEY: People have seen the trauma of President Obama. They have seen what happens when you really go to the extreme. They have seen what happens when you vote for somebody based on the personality that they have. They don't want that anymore. They have seen in the state of South Carolina how we tried to protect Boeing jobs from the NLRB and President Obama continued to try and take them away.

They have seen the fact that we're a strong right-to-work state, and they're trying to push -- President Obama's trying to push the unions in. They have seen the fact what all these mandates are doing. And what we're seeing with Governor Romney is this is a man who said he's going to come into South Carolina and the very first day that he becomes president, he's going to give a waiver to the people of our state and every other state and he's going to repeal mandatory health care.

This is a man that understands we're fighting illegal immigration reform, and the Department of Justice is telling us no. We're fighting to make sure that we get voter ID in South Carolina, and the Department of Justice is telling us no.

And Governor Romney is saying we believe states should have the right to make those laws themselves. We don't think government should get in the way. South Carolinians and the rest of country are feeling what happens when you have a heavy-handed president that thinks government's the answer to all things. And they're fighting back and they're fighting back hard.

So the people across this country have seen what President Obama has done to it, and they know we can't afford to have it for four more years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any interest in being vice president on the -- candidate on the ticket?

HALEY: I am very blessed to be the governor of South Carolina. There is no interest by me to be vice president or to hold any cabinet position. I am doing this because I need a partner in Washington. I'm doing this because I know that the hardest part of my job being governor is dealing with the federal government.

I just want someone that's going to allow me to tell (ph) my state. I just want someone's going to allow me to bring more jobs into my state and grow our economy through the private sector. And I know that Governor Romney will help us do that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if anyone's been to Charleston, they know it's a great place to vacation. What a beautiful little town that is. So I'll give you a little plug for your state there. Governor, thank you.

HALEY: Thank you so much, Greta. It's always great to be with you.