[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/27/art.nikkihaley8.nh.jpg caption ="Nikki Haley is the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina."]Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) - Despite predictions that the Republican gubernatorial runoff might be nastier than the bitter four-way primary fight that preceded it, candidates Nikki Haley and Gresham Barrett traded only mild jibes Wednesday as their campaigns re-grouped and wrestled with strategy following Haley’s dominant showing in the polls the night before.
Barrett lost out on a potentially significant endorsement Wednesday when Sen. Jim DeMint, who has ties to Barrett and his advisers, declined to get involved in the race.
But Barrett’s campaign beat Haley to the TV airwaves, launching a quirky statewide television ad in which Barrett promises to “shake up Columbia.”
Haley’s campaign announced that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will visit South Carolina to campaign for Haley along the coast June 18, though how much influence Romney has over GOP voters there is an open question after his dismal finish in the state’s 2008 presidential primary. Haley will also roll out endorsements from state Republicans on Thursday.
Barrett’s advisers acknowledge a difficult path to victory against Haley, who now has the backing of the Republican Governors Association and their flush war chest, but see no upside in dropping out of the race with just 14 days until the June 22 runoff.
They and other South Carolina Republicans also recognize that negative attacks against Haley are likely to backfire, as Haley’s surge in the closing days of the primary demonstrated.
Barrett pointedly refused to draw a contrast with Haley during a press conference at his campaign headquarters. He stressed instead his time as a small business owner, his military record and his plan for job creation.
“I am just talking about me,” Barrett said.
His main dig at Haley was a reference to her as “the Sanford candidate” in the race –- an attempt to link Haley to scandal-tainted Gov. Mark Sanford and his frayed relationship with the legislature.
Haley has the backing of Sanford’s fiscally conservative political allies, but she told reporters during a visit to a Lexington County barbecue joint that she is “a different person than Gov. Sanford.”
“He can refer to me any way he wants,” Haley said of Barrett. “What I care about is how people see me.”
Haley barely disguised her contempt for Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, whom she accused of dirty tricks during the primary battle. Haley was twice accused of cheating on her husband, and a prominent Bauer supporter called Haley a “raghead.” Bauer denied taking part in the mudslinging but finished in last place Tuesday.
Asked if she had sought the endorsements of Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster, who also fell short in his primary bid, Haley heaped praise on McMaster, calling him “amazing” and “a joy to campaign with.” But she said nothing about Bauer, eliciting a sly grin from her campaign manager sitting nearby.
Barrett and McMaster have not spoken following Tuesday’s results, advisers to both Republicans told CNN.
McMaster and Haley, however, spoke on the phone Wednesday and sources close to McMaster hinted that the genial attorney general could endorse Haley at some point in the runoff.