Party politics and beer lines both ran deep at New Realm Brewery on Daniel Island Sunday, Feb. 5, when former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley give an evening stump speech just 20 days before the state’s influential and possibly candidate-deciding Republican Presidential Primary.
Haley, along with former President Donald Trump, are the last two GOP candidates standing in a battle to secure the nomination and run against the presumptive Democratic nominee President Joe Biden. Biden won South Carolina’s Democratic primary with 96% of the vote.
Black-tinted SUVs blocked both ends of Island Park Drive as Haley arrived at the front entrance and then was whisked away into a small, white tent about 50 yards from the stage as Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlet Wilson warmed up the outside crowd with a 10-minute introduction.
With the wind picking up, handlers held down the tent flaps until Haley finally emerged to a burst of cheers and applause for what she estimated was more than 1,200 people who showed up to the rally.
“Did you see ‘Saturday Night Live’ last night?” she said as she approached the crowd.
Just 19 hours earlier, Haley was inside the television studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza appearing in the opening sketch of the long-running NBC comedy show in a skit that had Haley in a faux town hall meeting asking Trump why he wouldn’t debate her.
Haley even got the honor to blurt out the iconic opening line, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
On this Sunday night, Haley continued the same theme, reiterating her stance to refuse quitting the race – while still calling out and challenging Trump.
“Let me tell you something, I’m not going anywhere,” Haley said to whistles and screams.
Trump currently holds a double-digit lead over Haley in polls leading up to the Feb. 24 Republican Primary.
“We started out with 14 candidates,” she told the crowd, “Now I just got one fella left,” she said as she walked back-and-forth in front of illuminated U.S and Palmetto State flags that whipped along throughout the night.
“Only two states have voted,” Haley said. “It takes 1,215 delegates. He has 32 delegates. I have 17 delegates. We want the other 48 states and territories to show the power of their voice.”
Many people in attendance stood on chairs or tables to get a glimpse of Haley from the restaurant’s large, open-air patio, while hundreds more stayed warm, and watched inside the brewery on a large screen showing the live feed.
Supporters slapped “I Pick Nikki” stickers on their shirts, while others held posters proclaiming “Nikki Haley for President.” One young girl gripped a “Women for Nikki” sign.
Amid the sea of people, dozens of police, security and even a guard dog could be spotted routinely surveying the grounds for safety.
At the rear, national and local media huddled on an erected platform as cameras took focus on Haley and would-be South Carolina voters.
Many reporters could be seen peppering patrons with questions on who they planned to vote for and why.
“I don’t like Trump. His mouth is too big and I don’t like what he stands for,” said local Haley supporter Lynda Campbell prior to the speech. “I think she is a wonderful governor and I love what she did for our nation.”
Bill and Linda Letson, originally from Ohio, have made the Lowcountry their home and came to support the Republican Party.
Bill Letson said, “We think she is a very reasonable candidate compared to anyone else who is running,” while his wife Linda chimed in, “but I think realistically, Trump is going to be on the ballot and I will vote for him because I can’t stomach Biden.”
But not all in attendance had already picked their favorite.
Undecided voter Sheela C., who voted for President Biden four years ago, came to the speech with an open mind.
“I am interested in what Nikki Haley has to say,” Sheela said. “Honestly, this year is kinda hard to figure out where I am going to lean. I hope she really puts some thought in what she is going to do to help America. We are in a crazy time right now, so I’m really curious to see.”
John Henderson traveled from his home in downtown Charleston to Daniel Island in an effort to help Haley make history.
“It’s been 104 years since the 19th Amendment to the constitution was passed,” Henderson said, “I think it’s time we have a president who is a woman, instead of a man.”
Henderson specifically cited Haley’s experience as governor of South Carolina and her leadership while she was appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Not to mention, Haley’s age of 52.
“I’m 82 years old,” Henderson said. “Even though I’m in pretty good health for my age, the last thing I want is a president who is going to be in their 80s.”
The showdown for South Carolina’s republican delegates is Saturday, Feb. 24.
Those voters who did not vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary on Feb. 3 are eligible to vote in the Republican Presidential Primary either during the early voting period from Feb. 12 to Feb. 22 or directly at the polls on primary day.