Diversity wears conservative colors

NEWS ANALYSIS
Nikki Haley speaks to supporters Tuesday after winning the Republican nomination for governor in Columbia.

COLUMBIA --- As symbols go, it might be too obvious.

Rep. Nikki Haley, 38, slender, Indian-American and female, pitted against Sen. Jake Knotts, 65, rotund, and white with a thick Southern drawl.

Before this month's primary, Knotts, a Republican, had referred to Haley and President Obama as a "raghead." Some believe the slur won Haley public sympathy at a time when her campaign was already ignited by a visit from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In short, Haley won and Knotts lost.

In a more significant contest, Haley soared in Tuesday's runoff, defeating GOP rival Gresham Barrett 65 percent to 35 percent. The state's first female gubernatorial nominee heads to the November election, where she will face Democrat Vincent Sheheen, a state senator from Camden.

In general political terms, Barrett and Haley -- just like Knotts and Haley -- are both conservative Republicans with vastly different cultural backgrounds.

Though observers gush about the new diversity in South Carolina's crop of election winners, conservative Republican policies remain largely intact.

Consider Bill Taylor, an Illinois native who stresses his decades spent in Dallas. Taylor defeated Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Aiken, in the primary. Both Taylor, who said he moved to Aiken "nearly a decade ago," and Stewart touted their Tea Party credentials and lined up with Gov. Mark Sanford's brand of conservatism.

There's also Rep. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, a black Republican from Sanford's camp who is the party nominee for the 1st Congressional District and a key figure in the national media's coverage of the rising diversity in the Republican party.

In the Lowcountry, take Andy Patrick. The Republican, a former New York state trooper and Secret Service agent, moved to South Carolina from Virginia in 2004 and crushed Rep. Richard Chalk, R-Hilton Head, in Tuesday's runoff.

June's elections results suggest the Palmetto State is celebrating "the outsider," not just the anti-establishment candidate or the challenger but otherness in race and roots and accent.

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