COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley came away impressed from her meeting with potential Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, but cautioned that the discussion was too short to fully assess the former U.S. Ambassador to China and governor of Utah.
“It was a very impressive conversation and it looks like he’s going to be a serious candidate if he gets in,” Haley, a Republican elected last fall, told HuffPost after a Republican party dinner the night before the state convention meeting.
“He was great,” Haley said of Huntsman. “What I loved was his experience that he had in seeing China and how they’re off the charts and running fast and the passion they have for economic development. He knows that we can have that here in the United States. He wants to go and look at the financial aspect of where we are in our country and he understands it’s about reducing the debt.”
But Haley hesitated to say whether Huntsman, who is more socially liberal than many of the other top-tier Republican hopefuls for the party’s nomination in 2012, is conservative enough to win in South Carolina.
“You know it’s hard to tell. When they come and sit down for five or ten minutes it’s not enough time,” she said. “It’s enough to get you to know their personality and their energy level and their basic core issues, but you really have to hear them. You’ve got to get some more basic information on them.”
“So it will take a while to kind of go through where they are,” she added.
Some South Carolinians offered more blunt assessments of Huntsman.
“He's a little too far to the left on social issues. That's just my personal opinion,” said Bill Connor, an attorney and Army Reserve officer running for the state party’s chairmanship.
But Barry Wynn, a longtime aide to state power-broker Sen. Jim DeMint (R), speculated that Huntsman is strong enough on economic issues to receive his boss' support down the road.
“I wouldn’t think that the social views would rule that out. [DeMint] hasn’t said that to me, but that would be my view. He does have a very good record on budget matters in Utah,” Wynn said in a phone interview.
Huntsman officially departed his job as ambassador on April 30 and has formed a political action committee as he moves toward a likely decision to run for president. He is in South Carolina to meet with elected officials and state political operatives, and he will give a commencement address at the University of South Carolina Saturday morning.
After his meeting with Haley at the state capitol, Huntsman credited the governor with helping to bring down the state’s unemployment rate and told reporters that “there’s always room for a new voice” in the presidential race.