Nikki Haley Governing Forcefully 'With A Smile,' But Her Poll Numbers Are Withering

12/15/2011 08:23 pm ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

On a recent morning, cheers echoed inside a small gym as Nikki Haley bounded before Orangeburg middle-schoolers and quizzed boisterous students on the state bird. She was more like a fun mom than a governor, until she got quiet. Fallen from favor after 11 months in office, Haley let the group of mostly African American students know that she understood politics at the playground level.

She widened her bright brown eyes when describing her childhood in nearby Bamberg as the daughter of a Sikh businessman who wears a turban. "Everyone of you has seen someone who has been made fun of for the way they look, for the way they dress, for the way they talk," the governor said. In third grade, she said, her peers told her to make a choice: "We're not going to play with you until you pick one." A side, they meant: Was she black or was she white?

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