State chamber board member Ted Speth said Wednesday that he's backing Democrat Vincent Sheheen because the next governor needs to get along with the GOP-controlled Legislature, something that has been missing for eight years under Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.
They "certainly have not had much harmony there within the past eight years," said Speth, a managing shareholder in Ogletree Deakins, one of the state's largest law firms.
The chamber endorsed Sheheen, who won the Democratic nomination, earlier this year along with Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett. On June 18, days before Barrett lost a runoff with Haley, the chamber decided it would stick with that decision even if Haley won. This year's endorsements were the first ever in a governor's race for the state chamber.
"These candidates had a particularly favorable focus on business," said Reed Byrum of The Byrum Innovation Group Inc. in Greenville.
Part of Haley's campaign talk has been that she would go into legislators' districts and hold them accountable with their voters if they didn't go along with reforms she seeks.
"I just don't think that's going to bring the type of cooperation that we need," said Otis Rawl, the chamber's chief executive officer.
Not all the chamber's members are happy with the ongoing Sheheen endorsement.
Mark Buyck Jr., a Florence lawyer who runs one of the state's oldest law firms, resigned his chamber membership.
"We cannot lend our name to an organization which behaves as the chamber did in this endorsement without input from its membership," said Buyck. He said the decisions were made by the board alone.
Haley's campaign shrugged off the endorsement.
"The state chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it's no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
Sheheen campaign manager Trav Robertson said South Carolina businesses should be offended by Haley's remarks.
"It's a direct insult to every company and small business in this state," Robertson said. "The comments reflect her adversarial tone in having the state work with the business leaders to move our state forward and create jobs."
Godfrey said Haley is more interested in smaller businesses. "Nikki's focus is on promoting small businesses that create jobs and pay taxes without looking for government handouts."
It's unclear how much support Haley has with the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
Frank Knapp, the group's chief executive, said it has never endorsed in political races.
Nonetheless, Knapp shares concerns about the Legislature and governor being able to work together.
"We absolutely have to have a governor who can get along and work with the South Carolina General Assembly," Knapp said.