Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) – Minutes before appearing at a Tea Party rally on the steps of the South Carolina state house, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann had a closed-door introductory meeting with Gov. Nikki Haley, who plans to offer one of the most sought-after endorsements of the presidential primary season.
Both women spoke to reporters after the rally, which drew roughly 300 sign-waving Tea Party activists to the state capitol complex in Columbia.
Bachmann, who has spent the last three days in the critical early primary state meeting with pastors, elected officials and grassroots leaders, heaped praise on Haley, calling her "engaging and very intelligent and a proven leader for the state of South Carolina."
She would not say whether she asked the governor for an endorsement, but said the two "talked about 2012 and the tremendous opportunity that there is here in South Carolina." Haley said later that Bachmann did not ask for her support.
Bachmann, though, said she is well-positioned to follow the path Haley took to the governor's mansion in 2010, going from Tea Party underdog to statewide winner.
"The people of South Carolina have demonstrated that they aren't looking necessarily at an establishment player," Bachmann said. "They want someone new and different who is a proven fighter. They have gotten that in Gov. Haley. That's what I have been. I have been a real, principled reformer."
Haley has said she plans to back a presidential hopeful before the primary but said it's too early to make that decision.
"It's a wide-open field," she said. "There's a lot of people coming inside the state. What I have told them is, they need to go and they need to campaign with the people. They need to go and be seen in every corner of the state, and when the time is right I will endorse."
Haley said the state's Tea Party movement will "only get bigger and stronger and better" during the presidential primary campaign.
Another South Carolina Tea Party favorite, state Sen. Tom Davis, told CNN in an earlier interview that establishment-type Republicans should prepare face an uphill battle in the state, which has traditionally been difficult terrain for insurgent presidential candidates.
"Anybody that comes into this state and tries to run like an establishment Republican, or tries to run as a traditional Republican is going to get his or her head handed to them," said Davis, who has been mentioned a possible primary challenger to Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2014.