Pam Shumway was giddy to meet Nikki Haley at a McCormick campaign stop before the election. Clasping Haley's hands, Shumway told her how proud she was of the Lexington state representative and the optimism that Haley inspired that someone could reform state government.
Shumway said Haley's rise to the Governor's Mansion made her feel like a mother watching a child grow up.
"She was attractive, she was well-spoken," Shumway, 68, said of first seeing Haley at an April tea party rally. "We've called everybody in our district."
A voter at another event said Haley was "inspiring," a common reaction repeated at 18 months of fundraisers, forums and campaign stops around the state.
Haley, 38, defeated Democrat Vincent Sheheen, a state senator from Camden, on Tuesday and is poised to become the state's first female governor when she takes office in January. Haley also will become the nation's youngest governor.
How did Haley do it?
Haley benefited from a national political tailwind and national media attention after she won June's primary, political observers say. While Sheheen successfully raised doubts among voters about Haley, GOP leaders pulled together as the race tightened.
But, more than any other factor, Haley's political skills were the chief reason voters chose her over Sheheen, say those who watched the race.
Haley is engaging - both in person and on television - disciplined and focused, and her campaign recognized the electorate's mood sooner than any other.
Haley's message changed little from the time she announced her candidacy, winning over many voters with her well-honed, rapid-fire responses about recruiting jobs to the state, streamlining school funding and balancing the state budget despite a looming billion-dollar shortfall.
Haley parried questions about paying her taxes late, landing a $110,000-a-year hospital fundraising job that was created for her, what she did to earn $42,500 in consulting fees from the Wilbur Smith engineering firm and questions about her thin legislative record.
Instead, she sought to tie Sheheen to national Democratic policies, including health care reform and a lawsuit against an Arizona immigration law.
Critics said Haley dodged the truth about her taxes and her income.
"She is disciplined in staying on the lie," said Dick Harpootlian, former S.C. Democratic Party chairman. "She never, ever answered the question about Wilbur Smith."
To win, Haley developed much of her campaign's message herself and relied on a tight-knit group of advisers. She also tapped into a network of activists early who supported her push for more on-the-record legislative votes.
From there, Haley's campaign built on its mantra for supporters to tell 10 friends about what she had said.
On election night, Haley thanked her campaign team for letting her run as herself.
Haley's primary colors
Because South Carolina tilts Republican to begin with - and became even more so following Tuesday's GOP sweep of statewide offices - much of Haley's win stemmed from her primary performance, which saw her rocket to first from last over scant weeks last May.
A string of events - former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's endorsement, unproven (and denied) accusations of extra-marital affairs, a political rival referring to Haley with a racial slur - vaulted Haley from single-digits in the polls to national exposure and the nomination by the end of June. The cover of Newsweek magazine - twice - soon followed.
"When that spotlight hit her," said Trey Walker, who worked for Haley's campaign. "She was able to showcase that message and the ability to deliver it.
"Nikki Haley was not only ready for prime time, she was ready for 8 p.m."
While Haley enjoyed national exposure, most voters, including Democrats, still did not know who Sheheen was.
Many Haley voters on the campaign trail, including Shumway and Hannah, said they made up their minds for Haley during the GOP primary and never wavered after.
"It's not as interesting a story as the primary," said Tim Pearson, Haley's campaign manager of the general election.
Haley was the clear favorite heading into the fall general election.
But, on June 20, Sheheen - following the lead of Haley's GOP runoff opponent Barrett - released a decade's worth of tax returns at The State's request.
Haley built her campaign on transparency and open government and Sheheen compelled the Republican to match his disclosure. Sheheen later turned over legislative e-mails and hard drives, creating another public relations problem for Haley.
But Haley's release of her tax records led to a series of revelations - about late tax filings and payments, and her work for a local hospital - that allowed Sheheen to convince some voters that Haley should not be trusted.
Sheheen used resulting headlines in a series of ads that blistered Haley's credibility and a summer blowout turned into a competitive race into election night.
In October, Haley's campaign began to aggressively respond to Sheheen's broadsides, marshalling Republican resources and making a stronger critique of the differences between the two candidates.
Still, election results show Sheheen's broadsides had impact.
Haley won by the smallest percentage-point margin of any statewide Republican on Tuesday and recorded fewer votes than any other statewide GOP candidate, except Superintendent of Education-elect Mick Zais. Haley's 51 percent majority was the smallest for a gubernatorial win since 1970. Haley also recorded fewer votes in her home county of Lexington than any other statewide Republican candidate.
The low-water mark for Haley may have been an uncomfortable Sept. 30 Statehouse press conference by two longtime GOP activists announcing they had formed an outside group to press Haley on questions about her taxes, finances and other issues.
Stared down by state party leaders, Clemson University professor Dave Woodard and former S.C. GOP vice chairman Cyndi Mosteller asked Haley to come clean about her consulting work and her taxes. The group also asked Will Folks and Larry Marchant, the two men who claimed to have had affairs with Haley, to submit sworn affidavits and asked Haley to do the same. The two men agreed.
The group also purchased television ads, particularly in the Upstate.
While Haley ran as a GOP outsider, the Republican establishment responded by helping her shore up her lead.
Current and former party leaders offered an on-the-spot rebuttal to Mosteller and Woodard. House Speaker Bobby Harrell released a House GOP agenda that mirrored Haley's. And South Carolina's Republican U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham appeared with Haley on the campaign trail and urged supporters by e-mail to vote for Haley.
Additionally, the Republican Governors Association purchased $300,000 of television ads, supporting Haley, that called Sheheen "an Obama liberal in our own backyard."
"It's a cookie-cutter ad that worked all over the country," Harpootlian said.
Haley also began aggressively challenging Sheheen on his work as an attorney, following up on news stories that showed Sheheen's firm had sued the state while also doing work on behalf of state agencies or programs. Those disputes came to a head at the first gubernatorial debate.
Haley stunned Sheheen early with a broadside on his legal work. Sheheen hit back, mentioning trust or truth in nearly every answer - an attempt to impugn Haley's credibility.
That effort fell short, as did an effort to capitalize on the bitter GOP primary by convincing disaffected Republicans to support Sheheen.
A fundraising effort on Sheheen's behalf by dissident Republicans, launched following the primary, but never gathered much steam. A stack of "Republicans for Sheheen" bumper stickers, the only ones available at Sheheen campaign headquarters, sat largely unclaimed.
5 reasons Haley won
Lexington state Rep. Nikki Haley, a Republican, blazed a new trail on her way to defeating Camden state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat. Here are five reasons Haley won, according to Greenville political consultant Chip Felkel and interviews with state voters.
Political skills. Haley is a natural candidate, with the ability to appeal to voters through advertising and in person. She also was disciplined, sticking to her well-honed message, and offered an interesting biography. Voters cited a number of reasons for supporting Haley: her record, her policies, her opposition to Washington policies, her promise to keep the Legislature in check and her ability to inspire.
A high-profile primary win. June's Republican gubernatorial primary made national headlines, and Haley was featured prominently in the national media afterward, helping her raise money nationwide. Haley entered the general election known by nearly all state voters, while Sheheen still had to spend money introducing himself
Health care law backlash. The March passage of the federal health care bill gave Haley - and every other Republican candidate across the country - a gimme issue to use against Democrats. Haley kept pounding on Sheheen on health care, particularly when the Democrat said he liked parts of the law that would cover those with pre-existing conditions. Haley vowed to fight the law to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many Haley voters said the health care law was their top concern.
Alvin Greene's nomination. His surprise U.S. Senate nomination win created public relations and political problems for state Democrats. The party had to distance itself from the unemployed military veteran facing obscenity charges and couldn't use the Senate race to rally party faithful against Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint - voters who likely would have cast ballots for Sheheen as well.
Outside money. Haley got financial assistance at key times from outside groups, once in the primary and again in the general election. ReformSC, a group associated with outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford, made a $400,000 pro-Haley ad buy during the GOP primary; rival campaigns said it was the most effective television ad of that race. The Republican Governor's Association also bought pro-Haley television ads just as Sheheen was closing the general election gap.