Republican politics in South Carolina has been a rough sport since the era of the legendary Lee Atwater, but the dirty games have descended to a new low in the past 10 days.
On May 24, GOP consultant/blogger Will Folks claimed that he had an “inappropriate” relationship in 2007 with Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, who had surged to the front of the four-candidate primary field after being endorsed by Sarah Palin.
Folks was unable to substantiate his accusation, which seemed likely to fade away until Wednesday when — mere hours before the final televised debate leading into next Tuesday’s primary — a campaign staffer for one of Haley’s GOP rivals claimed that he had a one-night stand with Haley in 2008.
Larry Marchant, the latest accuser, is a consultant and lobbyist who was reportedly asked to resign Wednesday from the campaign of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. In Wednesday’s debate, Haley flatly accused Bauer of pushing the smear:
“Y’all were fishing the story (Tuesday) night and you didn’t fire him (Tuesday),” Haley said to Bauer. “It was only when no one was taking the story seriously, because he was a paid consultant, that you decided to fire him.”
Folks had originally hinted that his May 24 “admission” of a Haley affair was in response to pressure from allies of another GOP gubernatorial candidate, Gresham Barrett. On Friday, however, Red State’s Erick Erickson pointed to connections between Folks and the Bauer campaign. The Columbia, S.C., State provided further details of those connections Wednesday:
Folks, Marchant and Bauer have had business relationships. Long-time Bauer advisor Rod Shealy hired Folks in 2006 to work for former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel’s campaign. Folks said Wednesday that Marchant also hired him to work on school-choice issues but that work ended in 2005.
The political ties between Folks and Marchant make their claims tougher to believe, said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon. . . .
“More names with no more proof is certainly going to make it look like Nikki Haley is under attack,” Huffmon said. “It’s probably going to end up, in the mind of the public, needing a higher level of proof.
“What we have irrefutable evidence of in South Carolina is political incest.”
Marchant’s political consulting firm has collected more than $50,000 from the Bauer campaign in the past 18 months. And one alert South Carolina resident sent me this photo Wednesday:
The reader says this photo shows Bauer’s campaign bus parked in front of Larry Marchant’s office at 4 p.m. Wednesday — four hours after Marchant reportedly was asked to resign from the Bauer campaign.