IN 2003, a young woman paid a call to Rita Allison, asking whether she might have a future in the Republican Party. The question, like the visitor, seemed to come out of nowhere. “Miss Rita,” as she was known around the South Carolina state capitol, was a platinum-haired southern lady, one of the few who had found political success in a state that at the time ranked dead last in the number of women serving in elected office. The young woman was familiar to her only as an employee of Exotica, a clothing boutique out in the suburbs of Columbia. “If you were looking for something very original or different,” Miss Rita recalled recently, “it was a nice shop for that.”
Exotica was a family business. The young woman kept the books in the back office for her mother, Raj Randhawa, who ran the place. Her older sister, Simmi, worked on the sales floor, as did her husband, Michael Haley.
Nikki Haley was 31 years old and the mother of two young children. She’d never been involved in student government or taken so much as a single political-science course at Clemson University, where she’d studied accounting. And yet she had the notion that she might run for public office. “She talked to me about women running and the hurdles you had to jump over,” Miss Rita told me as we sat in her office where she serves in the South Carolina legislature. Miss Rita advised Haley that many women start off at the local le