COLUMBIA --- South Carolina elected the state's first female governor Tuesday, choosing a three-term Republican state representative who had the backing of Sarah Palin and campaigned stridently as a political outsider seeking to derail entrenched interests in her state's Capitol.
State Rep. Nikki Haley will become the nation's second Indian-American governor when she replaces outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford, her longtime advocate who will end his tenure in January. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal also is Indian-American.
Haley, a 38-year-old married mother of two, shouldered unproved accusations of infidelity, questions about her finances and experience and the hand-wringing of business groups and fellow Republicans worried she will continue Sanford's acrimonious relationship with the state Legislature's GOP leaders.
A tea party favorite, Haley won with about 52 percent of the votes over state Sen. Vincent Sheheen's 46 percent, with 85 percent of precincts reporting.
Sheheen, a 39-year-old Democrat, gave a thumbs-up as he thanked supporters who chanted "Vincent."
"I look out in this crowd and I know that just like me, you wish with all your might that we could take this state in a new direction, and it was close, oh, oh, so close, and we saw that glimmer. One day that glimmer will grow and burn brightly," he said.
Haley now must deal with double-digit unemployment that has eclipsed the national average for years and sagging state revenues that have cut resources for schools and colleges.
She inherits an elbows-out Legislature bristling after eight years of Sanford's vetoes and public castigations, much over spending.
Haley last week was invited to meet soon after the election with state Senate Republicans -- a request that came shortly after she vowed to "burn" lawmakers who defy her expectations as governor.
The child of Sikh immigrants -- now a Methodist -- Haley grew up in rural Bamberg County and helped run her parents' clothing business, working as a bookkeeper starting in her teens.
Haley faced more opposition in her primary run than during the General Election. Two men had claimed they had affairs with her. Neither Sheheen nor partisan political groups made the allegations a central focus in debates or the massive advertising campaigns that flooded state airwaves, though he did attack her for being dishonest on other fronts.
Haley was beset by criticism raised when her campaign attempted to score points. She boasted of working as a bookkeeper for her parents' clothing business, yet both the candidate and the company repeatedly were penalized for not paying taxes on time. She tried to slam Sheheen for missing votes in the Legislature, yet she also neglected to attend meetings.
Haley's marquee issue of government transparency took a hit after she released tax records in June that showed she was paid more than $40,000 by an engineering firm for generating business leads. Haley did not report that link on ethics forms, but defended that saying the law didn't require her to do so.