Nikki Haley Says Health Care Will Remain Issue For Romney

South Carolina's governor weighs in on 2012 politics.

May 15, 2011, 9:15 AM

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2011 -- Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney "will have to continue to deal with" fallout over his Massachusetts health care reform bill, saying it will remain a challenge for his primary prospects.

"I will tell you we do not want a Massachusetts health care plan in South Carolina," Haley said in an exclusive interview with ABC News "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour.

"I think that he will have to continue to deal with that issue. I think he's going to have to talk about how that was not good for the country. That wouldn't be a good thing that we'd want to mandate on all of our states."

Last Thursday, former Massachusetts Governor Romney gave an address in Michigan attempting to distinguish the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform law that he signed into law from President Obama's plan passed into law last year. Romney has come under fire from conservatives, who say his health care plan closely resembles Obama's reform efforts.

"The interesting thing was he was one of the only governors that showed courage when it came to dealing with health care," Haley said. "I think that we are looking for a leader that's willing to, one, make courageous stands, take strong policy decisions, but two, also admit when a mistake was made."

"Every candidate's going to have their challenge, I certainly think that's going to be his challenge," Haley added.

Haley has been a supporter of Romney's in the past, endorsing him in 2008 when he ran for president. Romney reciprocated by endorsing Haley's 2010 gubernatorial race, which she won to become the youngest current governor in the country. Haley's endorsement will be important for any 2012 Republican presidential hopeful in the early primary state of South Carolina.

Haley has yet to endorse a nominee for the Republican ticket, and welcomes more candidates entering the race. But as for her possibly throwing her hat in the ring as a vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, Hayley flatly rejected the idea, saying "I plan on committing to the people of this state my full four years in office."

Assessing the GOP Field

Haley also weighed in on other potential candidates for the GOP nomination, some of whom kicked off the campaign season in a presidential debate in Greenville, S.C. on May 5.

Haley said that "it remains to be seen" whether former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who formally joined the presidential race last week, can translate his past political experience into a successful candidacy.

"I think that the people of South Carolina and across this country are really going to push these candidates in a way that we've never pushed them before," Haley said. "I think that Newt Gingrich has dealt with a lot of issues in the past, and I think now he's going to have to show that he's got those ideas to deal with the future."

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is still mulling a 2012 run, and this week drew coverage in major newspapers over his wife's apparent reluctance to have their personal lives scrutinized on a national stage. Haley, whose own personal life became the focus of her primary campaign in 2010, called the focus "ridiculous."

"I think it's a terrible distraction to a campaign," Haley said. "I think what you need to be looking at and what I'm certainly looking at is what type of governor he was."

Haley also warned that any personal smear campaigns that distract from talking about issues -- a problem in recent South Carolina presidential primaries -- would not be tolerated in 2012.

"The second a political consultant tries to play dirty tricks, it will backfire and it will hurt that candidate," Haley said. "And so my warning to every candidate coming into South Carolina is come in, talk about the issues, that's what we want to hear about, but the distractions are not welcome in South Carolina."

Haley added that she found real estate tycoon Donald Trump's profanity-ridden speech in Las Vegas last month would not hold up in her home state.

"That is not appropriate in South Carolina," Haley said. "We will give all of our candidates respect, and we certainly expect our candidates to come in and give the people of South Carolina respect."

Haley wasn't certain whether former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who supported Haley in 2010, would enter the 2012 presidential race, but praised her for "getting people to know the power of their voice."

"I think that she woke up a lot of people in our country that just really thought that government was a waste of time and she got them to care again," Haley said. "And for that, I think that there will always be a place for her."

Battle Over Boeing

Haley hopes that the presidential campaign focuses on issues as GOP and that candidates lay out specifics on their positions, particularly in contrast to President Obama.

"Of course, everybody's going to talk about what President Obama did wrong. What I'm saying is let's also talk about what we would do differently," Haley said. "That is what's going to make sure that we have a great policy debate in this presidential, and I think every candidate's prepared to do that. It's an exciting time."

In recent weeks, Haley has pushed potential presidential candidates to weigh in on a policy battle brewing in South Carolina over unions. A recent complaint by the National Labor Relations Board claims that aircraft manufacturer Boeing decided to build a new assembly line in South Carolina instead of Washington state because of her state's non-union policies.

"I think that the Republican candidates are coming out strongly and saying there was a time and place for labor unions. That time is not now," Haley said. "This affects every right-to-work state and every non right-to-work state in the country. If the government can now start dictating where a company can and can't create jobs, God help us all."

Haley challenged President Obama to also address the issue, which she believes will influence the presidential contest in her pivotal primary state.

"I'll tell you what I'm not hearing is anything from President Obama and he is a candidate," Haley added. "He has yet to say what he's going to do about the NLRB. He has yet to say whether he thinks it's wrong that they are now making decisions on where companies can and can't create jobs."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events