Reports this morning noted that Nikki Haley has amassed three times as much in campaign funds as has her once-and-future opponent, Vincent Sheheen.
But she enjoys another advantage that I suspect could be even more important: She’s a much better public speaker.
She’s energetic, articulate, engaging and sincere. And those things count with an audience. Especially a live one, as I was reminded when I heard her speak to the Columbia Rotary Club last week.
Meanwhile, Vincent is… Vincent. He’s articulate; I’ll give him that. But his comparatively lollygagging presentation keeps him from connecting the way she does. As I’ve said before, he comes across as a good, smart guy whose attitude is, “Sure, I’ll step forward and be governor, if no one better does.”
By contrast, there is zero doubt in the mind of any listener that Nikki Haley wants it. And that counts. Oh, Americans may give lip service to wanting to elect regular folks who aren’t “career politicians,” who can take public office or leave it alone. But they don’t give their votes to candidates who don’t care enough to court them with every ounce of energy they can muster.
And Nikki Haley does this. She certainly connected well with the Rotary crowd last week. I was reminded yet again of how charmed I was by Ms. Haley in her first couple of runs at public office. She makes a very good first, second, and several more impressions. It’s only after awhile that it starts to bother you that she persists in saying things that… aren’t… quite… true.
Henry McMaster, who has established himself as the best sport in South Carolina with his unstinting support of Nikki since she took from him the nomination that likely would have been his without her meteoric rise, gave her a strong introduction at Rotary. He spoke in glowing terms of how much better off he saw South Carolina as being than it was a few years ago.
And there wasn’t much to fault in what he said, beyond the implication that Nikki Haley deserved the credit. For instance… He lauded the fact that the state’s three major research universities work together these days rather than engaging in wasteful competition. And that is a good thing. But it started years before anyone ever conceived of Nikki Haley being governor. It started when Andrew Sorensen was president at USC (and has continued through Harris Pastides’ tenure). Sorensen formed a partnership with Clemson President James Barker and MUSC President Ray Greenberg. They started going to the Legislature together to talk budgets, rather than clawing at each other for funding. Here’s a column I wrote in February 2006 about the then-startling spectacle of seeing Sorensen and Barker meeting with House Speaker Bobby Harrell at the same time.
Anyway, the state of affairs Henry described was accurate, and worth applauding.
But then, when Nikki Haley got up to speak — and as I say, impressed the audience throughout — she twice spoke of her proposal to go to a system of “accountability funding” for higher education. But she suggested that we need this so as to end the current situation, in which each university is funded according to which of them has the best lobbyist.
No. That describes the situation we had a decade ago. The governor’s funding formula might be well and good — I don’t know enough to critique it at this point — but the problem she’s prescribing it for does not exist. The problem in state funding for higher education is that it has been reduced so much that it’s in the single digits, as a percentage of universities’ operating costs.
That inaccuracy seemed to go right by the audience, as did other things she said that sounded good — she always sounds good, to me as well as to everyone else — but weren’t quite as grounded in reality as a serious observer would like them to be.
And if you’re not a “professional politician,” or a dedicated student of what happens at the State House, or someone who works in the complex field of higher ed funding in this particular case, this stuff just blows right past you. She comes across as smart, informed, dedicated and caring.
And until Vincent Sheheen is able to project those same qualities with much greater gusto, he’s going to be left behind.
I tried shooting some video of her speech last week, but the sound was terrible. You can get a taste of her delivery, however, if you turn it way up. If you’d like to hear her whole speech, it’s here at the Rotary site. The governor’s speech starts at 22 minutes in.