South Carolina's Sarah Palin-approved Republican primary candidate for governor, Nikki Haley, seems to be trying to highlight her belief in Jesus while playing down the Sikh religion of her family in an effort to overcome damaging allegations of extramarital affairs and punishing attacks from her political foes.
On Wednesday, a state lobbyist who had been attached to a rival political campaign became the second man to claim that he had a tryst
with the 38-year-old Haley, while a longtime Republican state senator, Jake Knotts, who supports Haley rival Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, called Haley a "raghead."
Knotts later said the reference (which he also used about President Barack Obama) was "intended in jest." Knotts is likely to survive the kerfuffle over his slur, however, while Haley's political future is very much in doubt.
Haley, a mother of two who has been married for 13 years, has strongly denied the adultery allegations but the damage they have done to her poll numbers may explain why Haley has begun to massage her public profile to put a greater emphasis on her Christian faith and, it seems, to play down her Sikh background.
Haley, a state representative, was born in South Carolina to Sikh immigrants from India. Sikhism
, which is now the fifth-largest religion in the world, originated in 15th-century India, in the Punjab region. Like many Eastern religions, it stresses a philosophical and meditative approach to religious practice and does not promote the idea of a personal God.
Haley converted to Christianity when she was 24 -- she is a Methodist -- but as CBN's David Brody shows in a detailed accounting
of Haley's religious makeover, until recently she stressed her Sikh roots and even the fact that she still attended both a Methodist church and a Sikh temple.
Her 2004 campaign
for the Legislature, for example, played up her Sikh upbringing, as Brody notes, saying that "Nikki was proudly raised with her Indian traditions and her husband, Michael, was brought up in the Methodist faith" -- no mention of her Christianity. Brody also pointed out that newspapers at the time ran headlines such as the one declaring Haley was "The First Member Of The Sikh Religion To Join A State Legislature In The United States."
These days, Nikki Haley is making no mention of her Sikh religious upbringing, noting only that her parents are Indian-born. And Brody also discovered that Haley's official website recently modified its description of her religious beliefs to reflect a more explicit and enthusiastic embrace of Christianity.
In April, this is how Haley's website answered the question about whether she is a Christian -- something she has often had to do given her background, much as Obama did:
Truth: Nikki is a Christian. In her words: "I believe in the power and grace of Almighty God. I know, and have truly experienced, that with Him all things are possible. I have looked to Him for leadership throughout my career and will continue to do so as governor."
As of this month, the item has been tweaked and now says
Truth: In Nikki's words: "My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make. God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day."
Brody asked Haley spokesman Tim Pearson about the shift in emphasis but said Pearson didn't answer directly. He said only that Haley "attends Sikh services once or twice a year in respect for her family."
"Like millions of others, she honors her mother and her father and has great respect for their faith and the way that she was raised," Pearson said. "Her faith in Christ guides her throughout her personal, professional and public life, just as it has for many years."
Whether such professions of faith can help protect Haley against the adultery allegations -- and allow her to overcome three rivals for the Republican nomination in next Tuesday's primary -- is uncertain. She got a big boost from the Palin endorsement, but polls show her ratings have since fallen off.
On Thursday, she again denied the adultery reports and told a Columbia radio station
that if she were elected governor and charges of adultery were proved she would resign the office -- which would at least be an improvement on the track record of the man she hopes to replace, Mark Sanford.