Lobbyist Larry Marchant admitted he had no proof to back up his allegation of a one-night stand with state Rep. Nikki Haley in 2008 and her campaign vehemently denied the allegation. Earlier in the day, Marchant resigned from the campaign of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who is competing with Haley for the GOP nomination in the June 8 primary.
"This is a false and outrageous desperate attack from a losing candidate's paid campaign consultant in the final week of the race," Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson said in a statement.
"As Nikki Haley rises in the polls, the good old boys in Columbia see their taxpayer-funded fraternity party coming crumbling down, and they will say or do anything to hold onto their power," Pearson said. "This is South Carolina politics at its worst. The people of our state deserve better, and when Nikki Haley is governor, they'll get it."
Marchant's claim is the second leveled at Haley in as many weeks. Last week, political blogger Will Folks said he and Haley had an "inappropriate physical relationship" in 2007. Despite dribbling out days of innuendo on his Web site, including some text messages and phone records, Folks has yet to prove his claims. He was not married at the time of the alleged relationship.
Haley, a 38-year-old married mother of two who vows she has been faithful over 13 years of marriage, is a tea party favorite in the four-way race for the GOP nomination to succeed term-limited Gov. Mark Sanford. She has been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her rivals privately say their internal polls show her with a lead in the race.
The Republican candidates were expected at a forum in Charleston on Wednesday night. The three Democrats were holding a debate in Spartanburg.
On Wednesday, Haley was preparing to strike back with a television ad set to air today. In it, Haley references the rougher side of campaigning.
"I've seen the dark side of our state's politics, and I know the bright side of our state's people," Haley says in the ad as images of her, husband Michael and their two children appear. "I have a vision of what South Carolina can be."
Before the debate Wednesday night, Haley's husband said "the allegation is absolutely false."
Marchant is a well-known lobbyist who has led efforts to pass school choice legislation in South Carolina. He told The Associated Press that he and Haley had a one-time sexual encounter in her room in a Salt Lake City hotel where they attended a school choice conference in June 2008.
He said he decided to go public after old rumors about a liaison were rekindled by Folks' unsubstantiated claims, which have been published on his Web site since early last week.
"I did not have any intention of going public," Marchant said Wednesday. "I kept getting calls from different people. I just felt like I owed Andre to disclose it to him. I did not do it until two days after I disclosed it to my wife."