NEW YORK (
) -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Mitt Romney on Friday in what could be a crucial gain for the former Massachusetts governor, who trails Newt Gingrich in primary polls there.
Haley had stood on the sidelines for most of the GOP race to the surprise of many voters and experts, who at one point predicted the South Carolina governor would support Gingrich.
| Mitt Romney
"He is a conservative businessman who has spent his life working in the economy, and he understands exactly how jobs are created," Haley said in a statement. "He is not a creature of Washington, and he knows what it means to make decisions -- real decisions -- not simply cast a vote."
Gingrich leads Romney by an average of almost 20 percentage points in South Carolina polls, as the former House speaker has run a decent campaign on the ground there, but Haley's endorsement could persuade many Republicans to change their minds.
It won't hurt Romney to have the governor canvassing on his behalf in the state she leads.
Romney's campaign said the presidential hopeful and Haley would host a rally on Friday and host two town hall meetings on Saturday.
-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.
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