COLUMBIA – A GOP lawmaker hoping to be the state's first female governor is getting publicity for all the wrong reasons.
First a political blogger said he and Rep. Nikki Haley had an inappropriate physical relationship when he worked for her in 2007. Then a lobbyist said he had a one-night stand with her in a Salt Lake City hotel room during a school choice conference.
On Thursday, state Sen. Jake Knotts used an ethnic slur to refer to Haley, whose parents immigrated from India.
"We've got a raghead in Washington, we don't need a raghead in the Statehouse," Knotts said on an Internet political talk show. He later apologized, saying the remarks were meant as a joke.
Haley, who was born a Sikh and describes herself as a Methodist, called it another shameful attack. It's not clear if the flaps are damaging the tea party favorite, who has been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Her rivals had privately said internal polls show her with a lead going into Tuesday's primary.
"You get in the last couple of weeks in a political campaign and all kinds of zany stuff goes on, and much of it is all about trying to throw up as much mud against the wall, hoping that something will stick," said Gov. Mark Sanford, a Haley supporter who is term-limited. "By and large people can see it for what it is."
Haley has vehemently denied the allegations of inappropriate relationships with blogger Will Folks and lobbyist Larry Marchant, and she said in a statement Friday that she would resign if she is elected and anyone finds proof she had an extramarital affair. She refused in e-mails to say what would constitute proof, calling that moot. Her campaign declined an interview request Friday.
The married mother of two has made government transparency her key issue, but she has refused to release her Statehouse correspondence records, which are exempt from public scrutiny under the state Freedom of Information Act.
"She's not going to waste a minute of time on any of this – the state has been dragged through enough of this kind of political junk over the last year, and she is not going participate in it," said her campaign spokesman, Tim Pearson.
The allegations come a year after Sanford, Haley's political mentor, famously ditched his security detail to rendezvous with his Argentine mistress and returned to tearfully confess his affair.
Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny, who divorced him over his affair, also defended Haley on Friday.
"I have watched with revulsion the spectacle that is now surrounding the governor's race. Our state is better than this," she said in a statement.
Raghead is a derogatory term used for people of Middle Eastern or Indian descent.
Folks, a former Sanford spokesman who had championed Haley's candidacy, has released some of his text message and phone records. An AP analysis showed most of roughly 700 calls dating to 2006 were brief, but some were noteworthy, including one in summer 2007 that started at 2:24 a.m. and lasted 146 minutes. The longest call was 207 minutes, starting at 11:28 p.m. Pearson dismissed them as Haley talking to an employee.
Marchant resigned Wednesday from the campaign of one of Haley's three opponents, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. He conceded he cannot prove he had a one-night stand with Haley but denies accusations that Bauer is behind the claim.
Marchant said he spoke up after rumors in political circles resurfaced following Folks' claims, and Haley's statements that she had been faithful to her husband of 13 years prompted him to confess to his wife.
"It was eating me alive," Marchant said. "At the end of the day, my conscience is clear."