The Washington Times - December 16, 2011, 08:07AM

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Mitt Romney on Friday, saying he is “not a creature of Washington” and represents the party’s best bet of defeating President Obama in the 2012 election.

“The election next November will have ramifications for generations. Neither South Carolina nor the nation can afford four more years of President Obama, and Mitt Romney is the right person to take him on and get America back on track,” Ms. Haley said. “I am proud to endorse him and will work my hardest to ensure he is elected, so we can turn around our country.”

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The endorsement gives Mr. Romney a big boost coming out of the debate Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa, where he returned to the above-the-fray strategy that he has employed most of the campaign season, training most of his fire at the policies of Mr. Obama.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, played the attack dog role, taking on Newt Gingrich, Mr. Romney’s chief rival in the race, by questioning his pro-life record and saying he was working for Freddie Mac, the housing mortgage giant, at a time when other conservatives were fighting against it.

More than anything else, Ms. Haley’s support could help him gain ground on Mr. Gingrich in the Palmetto State, and where the former House Speaker holds a double-digit lead of Mr. Romney, his closest rival in the state that will host the third nomination contest on Jan. 21.

New polls show that Mr. Gingrich’s recent surge is slowing. Mr. Gingrich leads in Iowa, according to a realclearpolitics.com average of polls, but the latest Rasmussen Reports poll has some warning signs, showing he has lost the lead there to Mr. Romney.

Mr. Romney, meanwhile, is hanging onto a double-digit lead in New Hampshire, which will hold the first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 10.

In making her endorsement Friday, Mrs. Haley reinforced the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign message, describing him as a “conservative businessman who has spent his life working in the economy, and he understands exactly how jobs are created.”

“He is not a creature of Washington, and he knows what it means to make decisions — real decisions — not simply cast a vote. Our country will need real leadership to undo President Obama’s failed policies, and replace them with the conservative principles Mitt Romney learned turning around businesses and a failing Olympics and successfully, conservatively, governing a Democratic state,” she said.