The Republicans may not like it. The Democrats may not like it. But the 2010 gubernatorial race comes down to one thing and one thing only: Did Nikki Haley have an affair with Will Folks? It's an issue the Haley camp has addressed poorly.
Shortly after Folks made his claim on May 24 on FITSNews that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Haley, the candidate took a page out of the Sarah Palin playbook, saying that a mysterious and malicious "them," the good ole boy establishment, had witnessed her rise in the polls and attacked, hoping to do whatever they could to defeat the anti-establishment gubernatorial candidate. In fact, on the day that Folks posted his allegation, Haley responded by saying that "this disgraceful smear has taken form less than a week removed from the release of a poll showing our campaign with a significant lead." Haley added that it was "quite simply South Carolina politics at its worst."
She also spoke to Greenville talk radio station WORD, stating once again that her rise in the polls was the reason for the attack. According to Talking Points Memo, Haley said, "They didn't care who I was a month ago, and suddenly it turns out I'm 11 points high in the polls, and all of a sudden, we've got anonymous secret e-mails going out and we've got this attack today. And I don't expect the attacks to stop. They do what they think they need to do to win, which is to bring other people down."
The problem: Haley's camp knew that a story about the affair allegations was in the works four days before the very poll was conducted in which Haley vaulted from last place in the gubernatorial race to first, according to text messages released by Folks on FITSNews. The publisher of that story, the Columbia alt-weekly the Free Times, is hardly a tool of the good ole boy network.
Free Times reporter Corey Hutchins had been looking into the affair rumors for approximately a year when he spoke to Will Folks on May 13. On that same day, Folks was communicating regularly with Tim Pearson, Haley's campaign manager. Pearson and Folks talked about the buzz concerning an impending story, and, during one text, Folks let Pearson know that the Free Times was behind the investigation. The next day, May 14, Sarah Palin held a rally publicly endorsing Haley. Three days later on May 17, the poll putting Haley in the lead for the first time was conducted.
Over the next six days, between May 17 and May 22, Pearson and Folks discussed the impending article in text messages, alternatively speculating that no such article would come out and worrying that one would. At the time, both appeared to believe the Haley camp and Folks himself were being attacked on two fronts — on one side by the press and, on the other, by the Gresham Barrett campaign. For most of the 2010 election season, U.S. Rep. Barrett and Attorney General Henry McMaster were the two leaders in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Trailing them were Haley and Lt. Gov. André Bauer.
The Barrett campaign later denied any such involvement, according to reports, even though staffer B.J. Boling was rumored to have been privy to an alleged confession from Haley herself, according to the Free Times and text messages posted on FITSNews.
In the text messages, Folks comes across as clearly worried. Pearson less so — at least as long as there was no affidavit from either Haley or Folks. If anyone else came forward with an affidavit, Pearson said it would be "a tough sell."
On May 24, Will Folks made his so-called confession on his website and kicked off a media storm the likes of which we hadn't seen since, well, Folks' former boss and Haley's mentor Mark Sanford announced that he had an affair with an Argentinian woman. The Haley-Folks story garnered both national and international attention.
In his May 24 post, Folks offered little to no details. In hindsight, it appears as if he thought the impending Free Times story or the one that Jim Davenport from the Associated Press was rumored to be working on would reveal plenty of unsavory details. The silence left many wanting more. But Folks did not go into specifics. That is until last week.
On Oct. 12, Folks released an affidavit at the request of the Conservatives for Truth in Politics, an anti-Haley group of Republicans, providing new details about his alleged affair with the gubernatorial candidate.
In the affidavit, Folks claims that in 2007 he and Haley "shared [their] first kiss while sitting in her parked car outside of MacDougall's restaurant and bar" in Columbia. Following the kiss, the pair allegedly drove to a "parking lot behind the neighborhood center at Emily Douglas Park, where [they] parked for approximately 45 minutes." Folks claims, "There we slid back the seats of her Cadillac SUV so that Rep. Haley could climb on top of me."
Folks also claims that following that encounter, he saw Haley numerous times during spring 2007, with most of the encounters taking place at his downtown Columbia apartment. He also claims that other "romantic encounters occurred in [Haley's] SUV (including one in the parking lot of the S.C. Policy Council) and in her Statehouse office."
According to the affidavit, Folks alleges that he and Rep. Haley also went out in public several times, and that the pair's relationship was known by a friend.
Folks claims that the relationship with Haley ended in June 2007. In the affidavit, he alleges that he ended the physical relationship with Haley because he began dating his now wife, Katrina. Previously released phone records from Folks show that he and Haley spoke 17 times between June 2 and Aug. 30, 2007. An Aug. 25 incoming call was received by Folks at 2:24 a.m. and lasted 146 minutes. Most of the other calls were made after 10 p.m. Eleven lasted longer than one hour, with an Aug. 7 call lasting 180 minutes.
After the alleged physical relationship had ended, Folks claims that he and Rep. Haley continued to exchange "numerous e-mails and text messages." In the affidavit, the blogger claims he "deliberately deleted these messages at the time because [he] had failed to honestly answer [his] wife's questions about [his] relationship with Rep. Haley."
According to the affidavit, Folks claims he and Haley exchanged texts on Jan. 3, 2010, and that these texts "referenced [their] prior relationship."
Following the release of the affidavit, Pearson once again dismissed Folks' claims. "These accusations weren't true in June, they aren't true now, and those who continue to be fixated on this nonsense really should look into getting some professional help."
But is it all nonsense?