For the two weeks leading up to January's S.C. Republican primary, presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley were seemingly inseparable.
They appeared together at events in Romney's adopted home state of New Hampshire, as well as multiple events across the Palmetto State: she was campaigning with her husband after her endorsment in mid-December, she was on the stage in Charleston when John McCain mistakenly called Romney by the name Obama and she repeated the mistake herself on her birthday, the day before the primary at a Greenville event.
But when Romney, leading in the state's polls throughout January until four days before the Jan. 21 vote, took the stage that night to congratulate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on his victory — his only to this point — , instead staying home to celebrate her 40th birthday with her family.
And she's been absent ever since.
Instead of stumping for Romney through other important Southern states, where her name recognition would be high, Haley has stayed at home while heavy campaigning has taken place in Florida, Georgia and Virginia. Other prominent national Republicans — including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — have taken her place.
Haley, through her spokesman Rob Godfrey, said that she remains in contact with the Romney campaign and plans to continue campaigning for Romney.
The governor's office also points to local responsibilities as the main reason she has been absent from any Romney campaign stops for the past six weeks.
"South Carolina is on the cusp of passing the largest government restructuring bill in two decades — that, our budget, and economic development is where the Governor's focus has been since the South Carolina presidential primary," Godfrey said in a statement.
Comparable conflicts, like a pair of controversial abortion bills in Virginia and a gay marriage debate in New Jersey, haven't kept McDonnell and Christie off the trail, but Haley's office insists she will still play a role in the campaign.
"We're in constant contact with the Romney campaign," Godfrey said, "the governor intends to continue to campaign for him both before and after he's the Republican nominee, and her belief that he is the right person to occupy the White House is unwavering."
Romney's campaign office did not return multiple phone calls and emails asking for plans to use Haley moving forward. And former S.C. House Speaker David Wilkins, another prominent Romney supporter, declined to comment on Haley's apparent lack of campaign involvement.
College of Charleston Political Science Professor Kendra Stewart said the reason Haley has disappeared from the campaign trail may have to do with her novelty wearing off.
"There was initially a lot of interest in her," Stewart said. "She was new, a woman who was able to capture the top elected office in South Carolina, but a lot of that has died down as the national party tries to prop up their candidates."
Stewart said that Haley doesn't have as much in the way of leadership experience as some of the other big names lining up behind candidates on the campaign trail, and that is a potential reason she has fallen out of the spotlight now that the race has moved on from South Carolina.
"The other names popping up tend to have lots more leadership experience because that's one area where (Pres. Barack) Obama is polling the weakest, so they are looking for people with a lot more leadership experience," Stewart said. "They're looking for someone who can beat Obama in that area."
At least one S.C. Democrat says the reason Haley is no longer at Romney's side is obvious.
“She’s absolutely toxic,” Democratic strategist Tyler Jones. “[The primary] exposed her. She’s the second most unpopular governor in the South and the national media didn’t realize that until they got into South Carolina.”
Jones said Haley’s fluctuating national reputation mimicked that of another female governor.
“The more people get to know Nikki Haley, the less they like her,” Jones said. “That’s sort of the same with Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.”
“You will not see Nikki Haley on the same stage as Mitt Romney again this primary season,” Jones added. “She might be able to raise money behind closed doors but the Romney campaign will not allow her to take a role in the campaign if he has any desire to win.”
Though Haley’s endorsement drew courtship from all of the GOP hopefuls, Jones said it did more harm than good.
But not everyone would agree. Patch.com contributor and former S.C. GOP Chair Karen Floyd said Gingrich's strong debate performances leading up to the vote led to his win over Romney, and that in the end, endorsements from Haley and other high-profile Palmetto State politicians, like Treasurer Curtis Loftis, .
"I think (Gingrich) had a rousing debate performance that catapulted him to the win," Floyd said. "South Carolina was truly a matter of timing, debate performance and earned media."
"Really everyone led South Carolina at one point. The debate performances, especially the Charleston debate, are what sealed it for the Speaker."
Floyd would also take issue with Jones' characterization of Haley as "toxic," and said she suspects Haley has been out of the campaign spotlight because she has been busy in Columbia with state issues.
"This is a pretty intense time legislatively with the budgets coming across, so I would imagine she's focused more on state issues," Floyd said.
While some people would point to Christie and McDonnell taking Haley's place, Floyd points out that both New Jersey and Virginia have yet to cast their ballots.
And, she adds, Christie and McDonnell differ from Haley in that both at one point were considered potential presidential candidates whereas Haley had never been considered as a potential candidate for this election cycle.
"I suspect it's a matter of timing and geography," she said. "You get whoever's on the national stage, whoever's the most known in that region that is getting the spotlight at the time."
While Haley's name continues to be floated in some conservative circles as a potential vice presidential nominee or a potential cabinet secretary should Romney emerge as the winner of both the GOP nominating contests and the general election, she doesn't have the same national name recognition as Christie or McDonnell, Floyd said.
She believes that's part of the reason why both governors are still appearing with Romney as other states head to the polls.
Stewart at the College of Charleston, meanwhile, sees some truth to Jones' assessment of Haley.
"Her endorsement of Romney didn't carry much weight with South Carolina voters," Stewart said. "That is indicative of her standing with South Carolina voters."
"She's not that popular at home now."
Stewart said Haley is making some of the mistakes that her predecessor Gov. Mark Sanford made in alienating legislators in the General Assembly. While Haley can point to the government restructuring bill, if it passes, as a win, she has burned many bridges already in the S.C. House and Senate.
"It's hard to rise any higher nationally if you can't get support at home," Stewart said. "And she's not making a lot of friends in the legislature."
Stewart said Haley has some popular ideas, but she has yet to be able to convert them into policies. She said people in the state are also getting tired Haley consistently turning down federal money available to the state, and her apparent refusal to listen to anyone who does not agree with her, and points to a recent Post and Courier article about Haley deleting Facebook comments that were critical of her.
"If she's not listening to anyone, that could hurt her re-election chances," Stewart said.