Politics

Haley Eyes Victory in 'Dirty' GOP Primary Race for S.C. Governor

South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley, left, and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett are asked questions during a GOP gubernatorial debate in Columbia, S.C., June 17. (AP Photo)

South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley, left, and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett are asked questions during a GOP gubernatorial debate in Columbia, S.C., June 17. (AP Photo)

South Carolina lawmaker Nikki Haley is looking on Tuesday to put to rest the protracted and bruising primary battle in the race for governor, which has hit her with allegations of two separate affairs and questions about her Christian faith. 

The Republican state representative is favored to win the runoff against four-term U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, after she came within 1 percentage point of outright victory in the primary two weeks ago -- she did not quite get the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff with her top competitor. 

In the final stretch, the surprise turns and brash campaign tactics that made the contest one of the most closely watched continue to shake up the race. 

Blogger Will Folks, the first of two men who claimed an affair with Haley, over the weekend announced that he was endorsing the woman it seemed he was trying to see defeated. 

In a posting on his FITSNews.com site was written an editorial saying Haley has the right idea on small government and fiscal constraint -- though "we know for a fact that (she) is lying through her teeth" and "her political career could very well go down in flames." 

Haley vigorously denies the affair allegations. Given that the allegations against her didn't appear to cut into her lead in the primary, Haley told Fox News that the rough-and-tumble politics her state is famous for may be losing its appeal among voters. 

"They don't want to hear dirt about the other opponents. They want to hear about what that candidate is going to do for them, and when that candidate stands strong, they're going to stand with them," Haley said. "This is not about dirty politics." 

The candidate has big-name support from GOP luminaries like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin but no shortage of critics at home. In a state where evangelical Christians dominate Republican primaries -- making up 64 percent of primary voters in 2008, according to a Fox News poll -- Haley has faced questions about her conversion to Christianity, having been raised as Sikh by Indian-American parents. 

Barrett denies being behind a whisper campaign. "I have promised to run a positive campaign and that's what I'm going to do," he said. 

But the military veteran, who has made faith a factor in his campaigns for years, is once again highlighting his Christian values in a final campaign ad blitz ahead of the Tuesday runoff. The recent ads feature a drill sergeant snapping compliments at Barrett while they walk together. In one, the drill sergeant calls the congressman "a Christian family man who won't embarrass us." 

Barrett, who was 27 points behind Haley on primary night, insists the race should be about conservatism and experience. 

"I think my record is more conservative than Haley's. If anyone is the underdog here, it's me. She's the anointed one," Barrett said. 

But Haley claims she has the conservative credentials, too -- plus she has the support of Tea Party groups in addition to GOP heavyweights. 

"I think the Republican Party is no longer about being Republican. It's about being conservative," she told Fox News. 

Polls show Haley already well in the lead in November against the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. A Rasmussen Reports survey released last week showed Haley holding a 21-point lead over Sheheen; in a general election matchup, Barrett was holding an 8-point lead. 

The poll of 500 likely state voters was conducted June 10. It had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. 

Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.