Nikki Haley: Fresh face for South Carolina or more of the same?
Polls suggested Nikki Haley was the front-runner heading into Tuesday's South Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary. But controversy is already hounding the avowed reformer – something voters had hoped would be leaving office with current Gov. Mark Sanford.
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But that heartfelt hope has broken down as a feisty female pol named Nikki Haley – a stiletto-heeled Republican of Indian descent – has pulled ahead of her opponents in the polls in the run-up to today's South Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary. Allegations of multiple affairs and even ethnic jokes have been tossed her way, potentially turning what was supposed to be the beginning of a cleansing new era into more of the same.
Former Alaska governor and "tea party" doyenne Sarah Palin has endorsed Ms. Haley. Ms. Palin called allegations from two Columbia operatives that they had amorous relationships with Haley "made-up nonsense."
For her part, Haley, who is married and has two kids, has said that, if elected, she'll step down from the governorship if they're proven true. So far, no hard evidence of the supposed trysts has surfaced.
Haley has capitalized on the state's hunger for a new image perhaps more than any other candidate. She is the outsider, both in appearance and persona – an avowed reformer.
Internal polling suggests the affair allegations may even have helped her, casting her as the victim of a corrupt and at times libidinous state capital culture that residents distrust. Her campaign network is far smaller and less connected those of the other three candidates: Attorney General Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, and US Rep. Gresham Barrett.
And last Thursday, she was targeted again as state Sen. Jake Knotts, a Republican, said on a radio show, "We already got one raghead in the White House. We don't need another in the governor's mansion." Mr. Knotts apologized, saying it was a joke.
South Carolina's seamy turn
The Haley affair allegation is only the latest in a parade of recent sex-related headlines in South Carolina, where Republican politics is usually of the "put up your dukes" variety and where the social arena is bedrock Bible Belt.