COLUMBIA, SC -- Gov. Nikki Haley is facing decisions over the next few months that will determine her future and legacy in South Carolina.
Two years after her election, any ambitions that Haley had of joining a Mitt Romney administration, which she denied, were quashed last week. Now, talk will start about the 2014 election for the South Carolina Governors Mansion.
Haley is expected to announce next summer that she will run for a second term in 2014 after a legislative session where she hopes to collect victories. Hacked Tax Returns
But her chief issues cutting taxes and trimming government bureaucracy, as well as ethics reform even after facing allegations of using her office for personal gain will be joined by another matter that already is testing her administration.
The theft of up to 4.5 million state tax records by an overseas hacker has upset South Carolinians and raised the ire of lawmakers, who appointed a special committee to investigate the theft last week.
The hacking attack also will form an argument for opponents to use to oppose Haleys re-election in 2014.
This breach cannot be Haleys Benghazi, said S.C. Republican consultant Chip Felkel, referring to the Libyan city where a U.S. ambassador was killed in September, a controversy that threatened President Obamas re-election bid.
To build a successful resume in the legislative session that starts in January and a case for her re-election, Haley will need to be more collaborative with lawmakers, continue to announce more jobs for the state and show leadership in dealing with the hacking attack and other issues, veteran S.C. political observers say.
She is at a crossroads, GOP consultant Richard Quinn said.
Haleys office insists that the governor is not thinking about her re-election. However, in a clear signal that Haley likely will run again, her chief of staff resigned that post a month ago to run her political operation. Still, a spokesman says Haley has not decided whether she will seek a second term.
Thats the furthest thing from the governors mind, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said. Her focus is on getting to the bottom of the international hacking case, making sure citizens are as protected as possible and preventing it from happening again.
This is her Katrina, her Sandy
Haley has tried for two weeks to calm fears about the theft of all state tax information dating back to 1998. The hacker used state-approved credentials to access Revenue Department records that include anything on a tax return, including Social Security numbers and bank account information. Much of the data was not encrypted.
The massive data breach is Haleys biggest challenge as governor, Quinn said even more significant than her being cleared of ethics charges last spring that she used her position as a state representative for personal gain.
This is her (Hurricane) Katrina, her Sandy, Quinn said. It could well be that her first term is going to be judged on how well she handles this.
Some political observers have used another hurricane comparison, closer to South Carolina, to describe the stakes for Haley. In 1999, then-Gov. Jim Hodges chose not to use all lanes of Interstate 26 to evacuate the Charleston area ahead of Hurricane Floyd. The resulting traffic tie-up was cited as a reason why the Democrat did not win a second term, losing to Republican Mark Sanford in 2002.