S.C. governor: I don't 'owe' Palin an endorsement

South Carolina's new Republican governor sent a signal on Sunday that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) might not expect candidates she endorsed in the 2010 elections to necessarily return the favor in 2012.

Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that she doesn't feel any special obligation to Palin, who endorsed Haley at a critical juncture of last year's Republican gubernatorial primary. 

"I have not in any way endorsed, plan on endorsing at this point in time at all. I want all the candidates to come to South Carolina," Haley said on ABC when asked if she'd endorse Palin. 

"I want the people of South Carolina to get to see them the way I know them. I want them to campaign hard. And then when right time comes, I will endorse. But there's no one that I feel like I owe at this time," Haley added. 

The governor's remarks don't necessarily rule out the possibility of an endorsement of Palin, it also makes clear that any candidate — including the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee — will have to work for Haley's endorsement. 

Haley's endorsement is especially critical because of her position as the GOP figurehead in South Carolina, the state which traditionally hosts the third nominating contest in each presidential cycle. For Republicans, the winner of the South Carolina primary often signals the preference of conservatives in the party. The endorsement of the state's conservative icon, Sen. Jim DeMint (R), could also be particularly important in determining the outcome of the primary. 

For Palin, those endorsements could be particularly important, because she's generally stayed away from New Hampshire, which traditionally hosts the second nominating contest, making Iowa and South Carolina of pronounced importance to Palin, should she run.