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Haley, Chosen to Rebut Obama's State of Union Speech, Is Rising Republican Star

FILE - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers her State of the State address to the joint session of the legislature, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., Jan. 21, 2015.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will give the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

The honor is usually given to someone viewed as a rising star in the party, which aptly describes Haley.

Haley - born Nimrata "Nikki" Randhawa on January 20, 1972, in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Indian immigrant parents - became the state's first female and first minority governor. She is also the country's youngest governor - 38 years old when she was elected in 2010. She will turn 44 a week after she appears following the president on January 12.

Republican Response to State of the Union address

Republican Response to State of the Union address

President Barack Obama will give his eighth State of the Union address January 12.

The State of the Union address is a message from the president to Congress, usually given once a year in January or February. It is customary for the party not in control of the White House to speak in response to the president's address, and the honor is usually given to a lawmaker who is gaining stature in that party.

Here are the previous Republicans who have given the GOP response during Obama's tenure:

February 24, 2009: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
January 27, 2010: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell
January 25, 2011: U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, who is now Speaker of the House
January 24, 2012: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels
February 12, 2013: Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is now running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
January 28, 2014: U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state
January 20, 2015: U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa
January 12, 2016: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

Sources: The White House, American Presidency Project

Haley became South Carolina's first Indian-American office-holder on her election to the state legislature in 2004. Politically, she is solidly anti-tax and a fiscal conservative.

Elected governor

Haley was elected governor on November 2, 2010, propelled by her involvement with the "tea party" movement. She was endorsed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Jenny Sanford, former first lady of South Carolina.

Since taking office in 2011, Haley has criticized President Obama on everything from health care reform to gun rights. She has voted for bills that restrict abortion and those that protect fetuses. And, as the child of legal immigrants, Haley supports stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

In 2012, Haley spoke at the Republican National Convention, and toured the country to promote her book, Can't Is Not an Option, a memoir.

Several events in South Carolina last year pushed Haley into the national spotlight.

In June, Dylann Roof walked into a historic African-American church in Charleston and announced to witnesses he was there "to shoot black people." Roof opened fire on a Bible study group, killing six women and three men, including the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was a state senator and an Obama supporter.

Roof told police he wanted to ignite "a race war," and photos turned up online showing him posing with a Confederate flag. That ignited a national debate over the banner known as "the Stars and Bars" - seen by some as a symbol of racist sentiment and by others as a reminder of the U.S. South's history of resisting federal-government controls. The flag had flown over South Carolina's capital since the 1960s.

A protester waves a Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina statehouse, July 9, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina.
A protester waves a Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina statehouse, July 9, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Confederate flag issue

During her 2014 re-election campaign, Haley touted her ability to draw business and jobs to the state. In a debate, she defended the Confederate flag’s presence in the capital, declaring that flying the flag was not an issue because “not a single CEO” had complained about it.

The mass shooting in Charleston altered the governor's position, however. She said that hate crime changed her thinking about the appropriateness of displaying the Confederate banner over the statehouse, and she supported efforts to have the flag removed and placed in a museum.

Legislation was passed and the flag was removed July 10, 2015.

FILE - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, right, and Major Gen. Bob Livingston, left, view flood damage from a helicopter in Columbia, S.C., Oct. 6, 2015.
FILE - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, right, and Major Gen. Bob Livingston, left, view flood damage from a helicopter in Columbia, S.C., Oct. 6, 2015.


Haley has remained popular in South Carolina, weathering such crises as a storm last October that cost nearly $1.5 billion in damages - a once-i-1,000-years event, the governor said. Her name has been mentioned a possible choice for vice president on the Republican Party's ticket for this November's general election.

A Public Policy Polling survey in November found 56 percent of voters in the state approve of the job she is doing. She is favored by 71 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Independents.

What sets Haley apart from other U.S. governors, the pollsters said, is her identity as a Republican who has measurable support among Democrats - a 40-percent approval rating, compared to 42-percent disapproval among members of the party of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Haley's speech charting the Republican Party's course as an alternative to Obama's proposals in the State of the Union message comes during final campaigning for the highly anticipated Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries - the first two statewide votes in the process to determine the Democratic and Republican nominees for the presidential election. South Carolina's presidential primary, two weeks later, is considered the most influential test of voter sentiment in the U.S. South.

Family life

Haley’s father, Ajit Randhawa, is a biology professor. Her mother, Raj, launched a multimillion-dollar clothing company from their South Carolina home.

Nikki Haley was raised in the Sikh faith, but converted to Christianity and is now a member of the Methodist Church. She graduated in 1994 with an accounting degree from Clemson University, where she met her husband, Michael Haley.

Michael Haley, known as South Carolina's "first gentleman," is a full-time federal employee, working as a technician for the state's Army National Guard. The Haleys have two children.

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