South Carolina

Haley backs Cruz after Rubio drops out

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley welcomes GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio to the stage to celebrate with his supporters after Saturday's South Carolina Republican primary last month.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley welcomes GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio to the stage to celebrate with his supporters after Saturday's South Carolina Republican primary last month. tdominick@thestate.com

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, a rising national Republican star, said Wednesday she is backing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas after her choice for the White House, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, exited the race.

“My hope and my prayer is that Sen. Cruz can come through so that he can push through and really get to where he needs to go,” Haley told reporters at the State House. “Because we do want a strong leader. We do want somebody that’s conservative. We do want somebody that’s action-minded.”

Haley considered Cruz for her original endorsement. She had dinners with Cruz, Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the weeks before the S.C. Republican primary before choosing to endorse Rubio, a source close to the governor said.

Donald Trump won the S.C. primary.

Haley said she does not plan formally to endorse Cruz. But, she added, if asked who she is supporting, “I very much want to see Sen. Cruz now be able to move through the ranks and get that top position.”

Haley said she sees a path for Cruz to win the GOP nomination, citing his disciplined campaign. The Republican National Convention could be contested if no candidate wins a majority of delegates.

Haley said she does not see a path for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to win the GOP nod. But she stopped short of suggesting Kasich quit the race. “I think Gov. Kasich had a good win in his home state (on Tuesday),” she said. “But what he chooses to do, that’s up to him.”

Haley said she would back the GOP nominee in November even if it’s Republican front-runner Trump. She and the New York billionaire have feuded over his campaign tactics and proposals, including a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

“Ask me when the time comes again,” Haley said. “But, as of now, I strongly believe I will support the Republican nominee.”

Rubio — like Haley, a 44-year-old child of immigrants — dropped out of the GOP race Tuesday after losing his home state to Trump.

Andrew Shain: @AndyShain

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