(Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney picked up the endorsement of South Carolina's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, on Friday in a move that could boost his fortunes in the early voting state.
Romney has been lagging in South Carolina and his backers in the state have been urging him to campaign more frequently there. South Carolina holds the first primary in the South on January 21 and former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who hails from neighboring Georgia, has a lead there.
South Carolina holds the third nominating contest after Iowa on January 3 and New Hampshire on January 10.
"The election next November will have ramifications for generations," Haley said in a statement released by the Romney campaign. "Neither South Carolina nor the nation can afford four more years of President (Barack) Obama, and Mitt Romney is the right person to take him on and get America back on track."
The announcement came a day after a smooth debate performance by Romney in Sioux City, the last debate of the Republican candidates before Iowa launches the 2012 election contest.
Haley was elected in 2010 with the strong backing of Tea Party champion Sarah Palin. Though her popularity has sagged a bit in recent months, her endorsement was still coveted by Republican presidential candidates.
Romney plans to spend Friday and Saturday campaigning in South Carolina.
Haley, the first woman governor of South Carolina, had been backed in her campaign for the office by Romney.
Romney has built up an impressive list of endorsements from establishment Republicans. At a campaign event at a Sioux City steel factory, Romney was introduced by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the presidential race last summer and later endorsed him.
In his remarks to the plant's employees, Romney injected a personal tone in a sign he is trying to connect better with everyday voters. He played up the entrepreneurial skills of his father, George Romney, who built up the old American Motors car company before he was elected governor of Michigan.
Romney singled out China for what he called unfair trade practices that have to be stopped. He said one of his first acts of business upon taking power in January 2013 would be to designate China as a currency manipulator.
"There are some cheaters out there and one of them is China. They've been stealing designs, patents, technology," he said. "You can't allow that to happen year after year after year