Washington (CNN) - South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday that she will not support Jon Huntsman's Republican presidential bid, a serious blow to the former Utah governor's chances in the key early primary state.
"Naturally, I am going to go with someone that philosophically I agree with, and Jon Huntsman is not it," Haley told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.
Huntsman has the largest political operation of any presidential campaign in South Carolina and has made the state a central part of his Republican nomination strategy along with New Hampshire and Florida.
Richard Quinn, a veteran Columbia-based strategist with deep ties to the political establishment there, is also one of Huntsman's senior-most advisers.
Haley met with Huntsman at the South Carolina State House in May and discussed his recently concluded ambassadorship to China and the view of the American economy from overseas.
It was a friendly and productive meeting by nearly every account, but apparently not enough to win over the tea party-friendly governor.
"If you talk to him about things he knows about, China and the economy, yes, that's great stuff," Haley said Thursday. "But what I really want to get is a strong conservative that understands jobs and the economy matter, and it's not what we say, it's what we do, and how are we going to fix this?"
Asked if she was definitively ruling out a Huntsman endorsement, Haley's spokesman Rob Godfrey said simply: "The governor's words speak for themselves."
Spokesman Tim Miller responded to the news saying, "On the issue that matters most to South Carolina, creating jobs, Gov. Huntsman has offered the most conservative, pro-growth plan and has the best record to back it up. We are proud to have the strongest team of supporters in South Carolina as a result of that record and message."
Sen. Jim DeMint, who has a loyal following among conservatives both nationally and in his home state, is probably the most sought after endorser of the 2012 primary cycle in South Carolina, but Haley ranks a close second.
She has met privately with most of the Republican candidates and even invited them to bunk at the governor's mansion when passing through town.
Haley has promised to endorse before the primary but has been less than enthusiastic about the Republican field.
Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate in California changed all that, Haley told Ingraham.
"I was very nervous for a long time because I just wasn't feeling it," she said. "And after watching that debate last night, that's what I needed to see. I needed to see that they were getting down into the issues. I needed to see the strong debate back and forth."