Nikki Haley has been elected governor of South Carolina, becoming the first woman and the first Indian-American
to win the state's top office, according to projections from NBC and other news outlets. Haley, the Republican candidate, was backed by the tea party and endorsed by Sarah Palin as one of the former vice presidential candidate's "mama grizzlies." Haley beat Democrat Vincent Sheheen, a state senator, in a race much closer than early polls suggested. The margin with most votes in was close to 52 percent for Haley to 47 percent for Sheheen. Green and United Citizens parties candidate Morgan Reeves received less than 2 percent of the vote.
The race drew national attention and twice put Haley on the cover of Newsweek. The election of Haley, a member of the state House, was expected in conservative South Carolina, but the campaign was high on drama
. The polls showed Sheheen closing
in on her lead as the race progressed.
In the GOP primary, after both Palin and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stopped in South Carolina to campaign for her, Haley defeated the lieutenant governor, a U.S. congressman and the South Carolina attorney general. She went on to easily defeat U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett in a runoff. But there was pushback
to her expected march to the state house, much of it from within her own party.
During the primary, two men, including one who resigned from the staff of a rival, claimed to have had extramarital affairs with the 38-year-old married mother of two. Haley denied the allegations
, for which there was no proof. On an Internet talk show, GOP state Sen. Jake Knotts
called her a "raghead" -- a slur used against Arabs or other ethnic groups who wear turbans -- and talked about Haley's family and her parents' religion. Haley, who was born in South Carolina to Sikh immigrants from India, converted to Christianity at 24 and is a Methodist, the faith of her husband, Michael. She began to emphasize her Christian faith
Then, there was Haley's onetime mentor, current Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, whose public profile faded after his unannounced visit to his Argentine girlfriend. Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, was an early and vocal Haley supporter. Sheheen, the Democrat, tried to exploit the Haley-Sanford connection.
Questions were also raised about the role of a former deputy of convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a Haley fundraiser (a Haley spokesman said the New York event was set up by the candidate's staff) and the circumstances of Haley's departure from a fundraising job at a medical center foundation. Sheheen contrasted Haley's description of herself as a "business person who knows the value of a dollar" with stories of Haley paying her personal and business taxes late and being fined by the IRS.
A small group of Conservatives for Truth in Politics asked for "answers" to the questions surrounding Haley.
Haley was not distracted. She prevailed by emphasizing her conservative political views and tying the moderate Sheheen to everything Obama. In the candidates' only statewide TV debate
, Haley's pro-business outlook came through in her view that "we're very fortunate that we're a right-to-work state and we keep unions out." An example of her conservative ideology is a suggested solution that businesses step in to save cash-starved libraries. Sheheen said, "We shouldn't beg corporations for core functions of state government."
Haley opposed the federal health care reform package and CHIP, a federal program aimed at helping low-income children get health insurance. She also voted against a measure that would have created a kindergarten program for at-risk children in 2007.
Though he had the approval of the state Chamber of Commerce and a 7-to-2 edge in endorsements
from the editorial boards of the state's larger newspapers, in the end Sheheen's effort to stop Nikki Haley's momentum came up short. She becomes the second Indian-American Republican Southern governor, joining Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
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