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O'Reilly: Mitt Romney's best pick for vice president? Nikki Haley

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley campaigns in Ann

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley campaigns in Ann Arbor, Michigan for Mitt Romney. (July 31, 2012) Credit: AP

It's getting toward betting time on who Mitt Romney will choose to be his presidential running mate.

The clear favorites for veep: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Any one of them would make perfect sense -- so I'm going to call it for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. My reasoning may be obscured by two personal weaknesses: I'm a long-shot bettor and I have an irreversible crush on the South Carolinian. Who wouldn't? She's lovely -- and she gives me hope for the future of my political party.

Three things weigh against Haley being the choice: 1.) The governor has removed her name from consideration; 2.) she isn't from a swing state; and 3.) Haley would have to readdress an old, unfounded charge by an aesthetically challenged former press secretary of Gov. Mark Sanford that she once had a steamy liaison with him. The general consensus among South Carolina voters? He wishes.

All that aside, Gov. Haley would be a smart VP pick, and here's why:

Mitt Romney needs to better engage women before Election Day. According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll, President Barack Obama is widely leading the Massachusetts businessman among women in key swing states. Obama leads with female voters in Pennsylvania 59-35; in Florida, 51-44; and in Ohio, 58-37. That's not a recipe for success, even with Romney leading among men.

Haley has a powerful personal story that most Americans don't yet know. She's an Indian-American of Sikh background who grew up in a small town in one of the most attitudinally Southern of Southern states, South Carolina. (Example: As a child, Haley was excluded from a beauty pageant because the judges couldn't tell if she was black or white.) She rose to become the first woman ever elected governor of the Palmetto State. Haley's husband, Michael, is a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, and he's about to ship out to Afghanistan. And starting at age 13, Gov. Haley helped her mother run a clothing store that grew into a multimillion dollar business. Haley, an accountant by trade, kept the books -- not a bad qualification for Washington.

Romney also needs to better engage minority voters, particularly Latinos, with whom he trails. Being Indian-American has nothing to do with being Hispanic-American, of course, but by selecting Haley, the former Massachusetts governor would be sending a powerful signal that he recognizes the new demographics in America. That would go a long way in a lot of circles.

Haley, the nation's youngest governor, is a staunch conservative with a soft demeanor. That's a killer combination. The governor knows who she is philosophically, so she has the confidence in her convictions to remain pleasant under fire. And anyone who has become governor of South Carolina has come under withering fire. Columbia politics make Chicago politics look genteel.

Nikki Haley is also best known for her attention to economic issues, which happen to be the thrust of the 2012 presidential campaign. She was a tax fighter in the state legislature before becoming governor, and she's put out a welcome mat for businesses since occupying her state's highest office.

There is a check mark against Haley as a candidate, though. She is a she -- and the political news media tend to tear shes seeking high office to pieces. Ask Hillary Clinton. Gov. Haley wouldn't just have to defend her record and old charges against her, but her hair style and suit selections.

But something tells me Haley is up to it.

Ms. Haley ran in a crowded Republican primary field for governor. From 1,000 miles away, a former state governor spotted her talent and endorsed her in that race. His name was Mitt Romney.

He should roll the dice on Haley again. She may be a gamble, but the payout will be worth it.

Bill O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant struggling to hold on to his own name. He is no relation to Bill O'Reilly the Fox News commentator.

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