A political blogger claimed Monday that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, a tea party favorite who called the allegations a "disgraceful smear."
Haley, a legislator vying to become the state's first female governor, said the allegation was planted to derail a campaign gaining steam with high-powered endorsements, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and ex-South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford.
The allegation was made by Will Folks in a post on his blog. Folks offered no proof of the relationship and refused to go into any further details.
Folks pleaded guilty to criminal domestic violence in 2005 and is now a political consultant. He also runs FITSNews.com, a conservative site that features occasionally insightful commentary, thinly sourced stories of state political intrigue and photos of women in bikinis.
Folks' allegation comes nearly a year after Gov. Mark Sanford admitted to having an affair, and two weeks before the June 14 primary, a four-way contest that includes a congressman, the lieutenant governor and the state attorney general.
Haley said the attack was a distraction to the race.
"I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage. This claim against me is categorically and totally false," Haley, a 38-year-old mother of two, said in a statement. "It is quite simply South Carolina politics at its worst."
Last June, Sanford famously vanished from the state for five days, reappearing from a trip to Argentina to admit to an affair with a woman he later called his "soul mate." The scandal ended Sanford's marriage and led to calls for his resignation. He is term-limited and leaves office in January; in years past he had backed Haley's political aspirations, and his ex-wife campaigned with her earlier this month.
Folks said in a blog that he went public about the purported affair with Haley because political adversaries were leaking proof of it to media outlets to impugn his reputation and destroy her.
"The truth in this case is what it is," he wrote. "Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki."
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press prior to his blog post, Folks would not discuss details of the relationship.
"I'm not going to paint pictures," said Folks, who gave the interview on the condition his statements would not be published before he went public.
Folks wrote Monday that he would not give any additional interviews, and he didn't immediately return telephone messages.
Palin denounced the claim in a posting on her Facebook page, and said she warned Haley that her and her family would be targeted.
"That, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast in politics today — especially for conservative 'underdog' candidates who surge in the polls and threaten to shake things up so government can be put back on the side of the people," Palin wrote.
Palin said she spoke with Haley and told her to hang in there.
"Ive been there," Palin wrote. "Any lies told about you will strengthen your resolve to clean up political and media corruption. You and your supporters will grow stronger through things like this."
Folks said he owes apologies only to Haley and her family, and to his own wife for failing to reveal the relationship earlier in their marriage. He wed in 2008.
A former Sanford spokesman, Folks left the governor's administration in 2005, around the same time he pleaded guilty to the criminal domestic violence charge and received a 30-day suspended sentence. Folks kicked open the door at a home he shared with a lobbyist and shoved her into a piece of furniture, police said.
Folks had little political experience before joining Sanford's 2002 campaign. When Sanford won, the governor made the ball-cap wearing, alternative rock band-playing son of a college professor his spokesman.
Folks said he did communications work for Haley, including writing speeches and news releases in 2007.
Haley, an accountant and three-term legislator, is in a tight race for the GOP nomination with Congressman Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster.
State GOP chair Karen Floyd said Folks' claim was an unsubstantiated personal attack.
"South Carolinians deserve a higher level of political discourse than this, and they frankly deserve a press corps that focuses on real, substantive issues rather than on Internet rumor mongering," Floyd said in a statement.
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said the allegations may affect some of Haley's high-profile support, though Palin wasn't budging.
"There's literally no way to disprove a negative and that is going to stick to her no matter how hard she tries to shake it off," Huffmon said.
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