(Photo by Tracy Glantz/The State)

Unless Democrat Vincent Sheheen can prove he had sex with her, Republican Nikki Haley likely will become South Carolina’s first woman governor.  Haley survived claims by two men that they had “inappropriate physical” relationships with the married, family-values state representative to slam her runoff opponent, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, nearly 2-1.  With all but one county reporting Tuesday night, she led 65 percent to 35 percent.

A poll just before the runoff election showed Haley with a 55-34 percent advantage over the Democrat’s nominee for governor, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden, South Carolina, attorney and environmentalist who worked to create a conservation land bank that has preserved thousands of acres in South Carolina.  Of course, in South Carolina’s bizarre politics in a particularly bizarre election year, a lot can change between now and November.

Still, even one of the men claiming to have touched Haley’s libido, political consultant Will Folks, calls Haley “Teflon Nikki” in his FITSnews.com blog.  Nikki Haley is the first woman to be nominated for governor by South Carolina Republicans.  If elected in November, the daughter of Indian immigrants who converted from her parents Sikh religion to become a Methodist, would be the second Indian-American elected governor in the South — Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal being the other.

(Photo by Heidi Heilbrunn/The Greenville News)

Nikki Haley’s runoff win was big enough an event to bring Gov. Mark Sanford in off the Appalachian Trail — or wherever he’s been taking “personal time” the past week.  The governor shared a brief kiss with his immediate past wife, Jenny Sanford, a major Haley supporter, at the victory party.  FITSnews.com recently reported that Mark Sanford had been holed up at Mills House hotel in downtown Charleston with his Argentine mistress Maria Belen Chapur.

Gov. Sanford said he will campaign for Haley and called the nomination of a woman who is also an Indian-American  “a commentary on where people really are in South Carolina.”

Whether the nomination of a Tea Party favorite personally endorsed by Sarah Palin represents a break with South Carolina tradition is debatable, but the state’s Republicans did make one bold statement Tuesday, nominating State Rep. Tim Scott, an African-American insurance executive, over Paul Thumond, son of South Carolina political legend Strom Thurmond, for a congressional seat.  Then again, Scott also got a Palin endorsement.

In another key runoff race, South Carolina Republicans ousted longtime U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, part of the Contract with America Republicans who elevated Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House.  Trey Gowdy, a Spartanburg prosecutor, won after painting the onetime conservative stalwart as a liberal.

Related: Sliding Toward the Extreme.

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.