Nikki Haley: Still the Darling of South Carolina Politics?

Julie Marsh

julie marsh
Photo by Aimee Giese
In March, Newsweek published a list of nominations for Most Embarrassing State Government. Not surprisingly, thanks in large part to Governor Mark Sanford and his Argentinian lover, South Carolina made the top ten.

Governor Sanford -- who's on his way out this coming January -- and his former wife, Jenny Sanford, have both rallied behind South Carolina state representative Nikki Haley as the Republican gubernatorial candidate of choice. Indeed, Rep. Haley took the lead among her fellow primary challengers in a poll last week and received an endorsement from Sarah Palin. It would seem that Haley was headed directly to the governor's mansion.

Until South Carolina political blogger Will Folks posted that he'd had an affair with her.

Allegations of affairs are nothing new in politics, of course. That muck gets raked every election season, particularly during the primaries when candidates strive to differentiate themselves from others in their party. What's interesting about Folks' admission is that he's a supporter of Haley's.

Folks' site -- FITSNews -- has been covering Haley's gubernatorial pursuits since she announced her candidacy last year. Monday morning, Folks wrote that "a group of political operatives" has been threatening to leak information that "document[s] a prior physical relationship between myself and Rep. Haley." Out of concern for his site, his family, and his ideals, Folks opted to beat these operatives to the punch and admitted that yes, he'd "had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki."

Needless to say, there's been some backlash.

Haley released a statement asserting that "this claim against me is categorically and totally false." Palin wrote on Facebook: "Well, whaddya know? South Carolina’s conservative candidate, Nikki Haley, recently zipped to the front of the line in her state’s race for governor; and lo and behold, now accusations of an affair surface." South Carolina GOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd commented, "South Carolinians deserve a higher level of political discourse than this, and they frankly deserve a press corps that focuses on real, substantive issues rather than on Internet rumor mongering."

It's curious, though -- on FITSNews, Folks is a vocal supporter of Haley's, and his company provided consulting services (on an apparently very limited basis) to her state Senate campaign. In his post announcing the liaison, Folks called Haley "the one S.C. gubernatorial candidate who, in my opinion, would most consistently advance the ideals I believe in." Based on this evidence, it doesn't appear that his aim is to wound her candidacy.

Instead, the picture Folks paints is one of persecution -- of himself. He claims that the political operatives who threatened to leak this story "will also stop at nothing to humiliate me, destroy my family, and take a sizable chunk out of the credibility [of] this website ..." He defends his decision to announce the affair himself: "In preemptively addressing this matter, I am well aware that conspiracy theories will abound regarding my motives ... I also know that no matter what I do, I will be end up being smeared ..."

For an affair that took place before he was married (so Folks says) in an environment where infidelity is, sadly, nothing new, Folks' post strikes me as overly dramatic. I'm left wondering about two possibilities: One, that these political operatives may have some other dirt on Folks and simply traded one good story for another -- one that would benefit the other primary candidates at Haley's expense; or two, that this liaison wasn't quite as brief and distant as Folks and Haley would like South Carolinians to believe.

Definitely an interesting political puzzle, and one to which I don't think we've got all the pieces yet.

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