Nikki Haley Wins Republican Nomination For South Carolina Governor

Nikki Haley overcame a smear campaign and religious bigotry to come one step closer to the Governor's Mansion in South Carolina.

It was an historic night in South Carolina as Nikki Haley came one step closer to becoming that state’s first female, and first Indian-American, Governor:

In a historic and definitive win, Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington County handily defeated U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett of Westminster in Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial runoff.

Haley is the first S.C. woman to win a major party’s nomination for governor – a mantle she wore lightly Tuesday, preferring to keep the focus on her campaign message of government transparency.

“This is a movement about government being open and accountable to the people,” Haley told a crowd of supporters during her victory speech in Columbia. “This is a movement that was about clear conservative ideas that just wasn’t going to take any distractions.”

Buoyed by voters sick of the political status quo and galvanized by her message of government transparency and accountability, Haley now faces Democrat and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw County in November’s general election.

Haley dominated in the Lowcountry and Midlands and was only slightly less potent in the Upstate, winning a majority of the counties that comprise Barrett’s congressional district.

Barrett’s campaign, which centered on job creation, wasn’t able to overcome his 2008 vote for the so-called bank bailout bill or define Haley as a hypocrite whose reality did not match her rhetoric on transparency.

Tax records released this week showed Haley earned more than $40,500 as a part-time consultant for an engineering firm that does business with the state. Haley deflected the criticism, pointing out she had not broken the law. Haley also weathered questions about her marital fidelity and about her religious conversion to Christianity.

Tuesday, speaking to his voters from his Columbia headquarters, Barrett vowed to help Haley win in November and reminded voters he had run a clean campaign.

“It might not have been a close race. But it was a good race for South Carolina,” Barrett said. “It was an honest conversation about the future of this state and the conservative reforms we need for this generation and the next to prosper. It doesn’t happen often in South Carolina, but we ran a positive campaign on the issues,” he said

It remains to be seen if the divided state GOP will unify behind Haley’s anti-incumbent campaign which has been critical of the Republican status quo. Some Republican Party members worry Haley, Gov. Mark Sanford’s protégé, will replace Sanford in an unproductive executive-legislative relationship that has often led to legislative gridlock during the past seven years.

It hasn’t been an easy election for Haley, or South Carolina Republicans for that matter. First, Haley was hit with the charges by a South Carolina political blogger that the two had had a multi-year extramarital affair, a charge which Haley denied and for which the blogger in question has provided no real corroborating evidence. Then she became the target of a particularly despicable smear campaign based on her Sikh heritage, at one point being called a “raghead” by a Republican state legislator, and at the other being the subject of an anonymous leafleting campaign claiming that she was lying about her conversion to Christianity.

Given that this is South Carolina, Haley stands a very good chance of winning in November at which point she is likely to become one of the GOP’s rising young stars. Keep an eye on this one.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.