The kingmaker in 2012: Nikki Haley?

Haley, who was elected in 2010 and basked in favorable news coverage as the state’s first female and also Indian-American governor, hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet. But her shots at Romney and Gingrich has led to speculation in state political circles that her candidate of choice is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The two share a common bond– Jon Lerner, her political adviser and Pawlenty’s pollster.

Noting the Lerner connection, one top South Carolina operative flatly said “she’s in the bag for Pawlenty”—a common refrain in recent interviews with a half-dozen state political operatives.

“Her political adviser is Jon Lerner,” another operative, consultant Warren Tompkins, pointed out without prompting.