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SC Republican race gets ugly

Heated elections have a way of getting ugly in the final hours, and sometimes even bizarre. Tomorrow's Republican primary for South Carolina Governor has managed to be both. Infidelity ended South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's political career and gave us a new euphemism for sneaking off to see your lover, also known as "hiking the Appalachian trail." Accusations of infidelity now threaten the woman who would replace Governor Sanford - Republican Nikki Haley. "I don't know how more clear I can be: I have been absolutely faithful to my husband for 13 years," said Haley late last week on WVOC radio in Columbia. Just a few weeks earlier, Haley's campaign was on a roll, winning over Tea Party activists and the endorsement of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Polls had her ahead by double-digits in a four-way Republican Primary. And then, a political blogger who used to work for Haley announced they'd had an affair two years ago. Days later, another political consultant claimed he and Haley had a one-night stand. Haley continues to deny all the allegations and, when pressed by a radio host, said she would step down as governor if the claims were ever proven. At the moment she's doing what many politicians in her situation have done. She features her family prominently in a new TV ad. "Dirty politics are par for the course down here," says Scott Huffmon, a political scientist for South Carolina's Winthrop University. Sex scandals may not be unusual in the state, but Huffmon says the Haley situation is strange because of the men making the claims. Take the political blogger, Will Folks. Huffmon says he can't figure out Folks' motive. "No one, and I really mean no one, has been a supporter of Nikki Haley running for Governor longer than Will Folks," says Huffmon. "He was saying 'This woman should be Governor' long before anyone ever had thought seriously about that." Folks is also known for using his blog to stir the political rumor mill. On May 24th he certainly did that. Folks says his affair with Haley was about to be exposed in the media, so he preempted it with a tell-all blog post. Since then he's avoided interviews, but has released phone records showing hundreds of late night calls with Haley when he worked for her in 2007. She says the calls merely prove she's a workhorse. Political consultant Larry Marchant isn't offering any proof of his claims. "You know, I don't know how you prove a one-night stand," says Marchant. "Did I take pictures of us in the hotel room together? No I didn't. (The affair) happened." Marchant would seem to have more obvious political motive than Folks. He was a paid fundraiser for one of Haley's opponents, though he resigned that position after going public with his allegations. Marchant says he came forward because he couldn't keep quiet while Nikki Haley went on insisting she's been 100-percent faithful. "I just want to see a little honesty," says Marchant. "I mean look, we're on the heels of one of the most embarrassing moments of this state's history with Mark Sanford." South Carolinians are eager to have their politician's sex lives stop being the subject of late-night jokes. But ironically, these latest allegations seem to have solidified Nikki Haley's base. "I just think it's the typical, hateful kind of stuff they dig up at the last minute," says voter Louise Frank of Rock Hill, who adds she's still planning to vote for Haley. "If there's no concrete proof that she committed adultery - if there's no tearful admission - her core supporters are gonna absolutely show up," says Huffmon, the political scientist. At the same time, Huffmon says voters leaning toward Haley's opponents may be so turned off by the mess, they'll skip the primary entirely. "And that would be a very ironic bounce for her campaign," says Huffmon. A weekend poll of South Carolina voters had Nikki Haley leading by 20 points in the Republican race for governor. Meanwhile her opponents - sitting Congressman Gresham Barrett, the state's current lieutenant governor Andre Bauer and state attorney general Henry McMaster - have struggled in the last few days to capture any of the spot light.