If you took the summer off from obsessing over S.C. political scandals, let us catch you up: The count of political insiders who may or (more than likely) may not have had sex with GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley is now at four — this after a Lowcountry blogger was thrust into the scandal last week following an internet whisper campaign.
Will Folks, a blogger at FITSNews.com and a former spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, claimed earlier this year that he had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley, who, following an endorsement from Sarah Palin, had moved to the head of the pack in the 2010 race for the GOP nomination. Although Folks indicated that he had proof, his text messages and phone records detailed little and hardly substantiated anything considering the two were working together and, until his accusations, Folks was communicating closely with the campaign. Many observers were left unconvinced.
Following Folks' allegation, political mover and shaker Larry Marchant, a former Haley ally and a campaign adviser for André Bauer, claimed that he had a one-night fling with Haley at a conference out of state. Marchant was not only married, but, at the time of his allegation, his wife was pregnant. For many, Marchant's claims were less convincing than Folks'. Comedy Central's Jon Stewart playfully suggested that the effeminate Marchant was hiding something else.
Months later, after the hubbub over the scandal had largely died down and Haley had won the GOP nomination, Folks once again released another claim — this time floating the rumor that Haley may have also had a fling with Myrtle Beach Rep. Thad Viers. Very few paid attention. And rightfully so. Folks offered no proof, only the unsubstantiated allegation.
Much to the surprise of political fiends, a new rumor surfaced last week, first on the blog Voting Under the Influence and later FITSNews. The Voting Under the Influence post was vague, only offering a tease that information had been provided to the blogger, Richard B. McCarty, indicating that a "Lowcountry blogger" may have had "drunken sex with a candidate for governor of South Carolina and other S.C. politicos." Voting Under the Influence mentioned that they'd be watching "Hurricane Earl." McCarty was unable to be reached prior to publication.
FITS later released a post of its own, one noting that "multiple sources" indicated that the Voting Under the Influence post had referred to blogger Earl Capps and Haley. FITS then released a text message from Capps which neither confirmed nor denied the claim. Capps, of the Blogland of Earl Capps, declined to comment for this story, claiming that he didn't discuss personal matters, although he did say that the text message to Folks was accurate. Capps also noted that he had contacted a lawyer but declined to say whether any legal action would be taken.
Which brings us to the question: Exactly why are these allegations — each one with little to no proof — becoming increasingly commonplace? And are we witnessing what is perhaps the most ineffective smear in South Carolina political history? Or is this something even worse?
Jeri Cabot, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, believes that some of the blame clearly lies with Haley. "She never completely confronted the allegation. She said, 'I won't be distracted. I deny them, but I won't be distracted by them,'" Cabot says. She adds that the average person, faced with these sort of unsubstantiated allegations, would likely say, " 'If somebody circulated that kind of rumor about me, I would sue them.' "
Cabot also points out Haley's reluctance to release her legislative e-mails as a contributing factor in the continued prevalence of rumors. "Basically, she's just trying to play the Bill Clinton game. 'I won't be distracted. I have better things to do. People respect me for the agenda I've put forth and the competency I will bring to the office. They're not interested in this,' — which is not tackling it head on."
And as far as the initial allegations go, it appears that they did little to negatively impact Haley's campaign. Some might even argue that Folks' and Marchant's claims only served to help Haley. In fact, Brad Warthen, former vice president and editorial page editor for The State and current blogger at bradwarthen.com, suggests it might have been Folks' intention to help the gubernatorial candidate.
"It's the only logical explanation I can see as far as a motive if it was untrue — if it was a lie, the only reason they could possibly do this is to generate sympathy for Nikki," Warthen says, adding that he predicted the allegations would help Haley get elected.
Cabot also questions Folks' motives. "You have to ask, 'Is he crazy? Is this just a person who would shoot himself in the foot, or is South Carolina politics so perverted that if you accuse someone, you can predict that people will run to her defense and that will actually be a plus?' So consultants are now out there saying, 'OK, come on, throw some mud at me because a backlash on you is going to be so great that it's going to help my candidate?'" Cabot asks. "Are we at that point in South Carolina politics? That's sad."
Wes Wolfe, journalist and blogger for Wolfe Reports, also believes the allegation has had no negative effect on the Haley campaign. According to Wolfe, the reason people keep following — and sites keep reporting — the seemingly endless stream of allegations against Haley is quite simple. "People love a sex scandal, especially in politics. That's not new," Wolfe says. "These sex scandal stories have nothing but readers."
He adds, "This is the market in effect. This is what the people want, so the people providing the content are going to give it to them," Wolfe says.
David Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor, co-author of Why We Whisper with Jim DeMint, and a consultant for Gresham Barrett, who lost the gubernatorial runoff to Haley, thinks there is a simple reason for the durability of the story. "I think it's sticking around because there are some facts there. I mean, Nikki Haley has probably been loose at some time, and these facts are coming out because she's going to win governor," Woodard says.
He adds, "My experience, going all the way back before Clinton, was that when these things keep happening time and time again, there is usually something there."
Woodard also believes that Haley's last-minute success is to blame. "I think that had it come early, probably they would have dismissed it because they didn't think she had a chance of winning," Woodard says, adding that after Haley moved from the back of the pack to the lead dog spot, "then suddenly people think they can throw a rock at her now that she's ahead, and I think all the baggage is coming out."
Corey Hutchins, a reporter with Columbia's Free Times, began asking questions about the affair rumors in the weeks running up to Folks' public allegations.
"If everything that has been put out is true, then it's really sad that we are poised to elect this person as the governor of South Carolina," he says. "If everything that has been put out there is not true — and it's all made up and it's done for profit or some kind of political or financial gain, I think that's just as sad."
He adds, "Personally, I think it's somewhere in the middle where you've got the voters of this state so confused over this story that it almost doesn't matter if it's true or it's not."
City Paper reveals internal memo to bloggers
To: Will Moredock, Jack Hunter, and Chris Haire,
Re: Personally Avoiding Haley Affair Accusations
The latest affair allegations facing GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley involve Lowcountry blogger Earl Capps. It’s the second blogger and fourth political insider who has shared a liaison headline with Haley, so I felt it important to send out a directive to you, our crack team of bloggers and political commentators.
First, we don’t want to know if you have slept with Haley. Unless the two of you are heading to South America for a mysterious rendezvous, thus impacting our deadlines, we’re happy to let you leave the pillow talk on the pillows.
Second, Jim Davenport of the Associated Press will soon be calling to verify rumors regarding an affair between you and Haley. There is no need to choose your words carefully. Here is a simple formula:
A. If it’s true.
(1) If you want to “protect” Haley’s family, or your own, then lie. The worst that will happen is that some evidence comes up that proves the indiscretion. This kind of thing is hard to find (just ask Will Folks). But, even if it is revealed to be true, you are not a politician, athlete, or the idol of millions who is expected to be honest. Your failed attempt at deception can be excused as an effort to preserve Haley’s marriage and seeming purity.
(2) If you couldn’t care less about Haley — and you can prove the affair — hang up on Jim and give me a call. We’ll run a cover story in the next issue proclaiming “City Paper hit that.” If you can’t prove it, tell Jim you did it and let him try to prove it.
B. If it’s false.
(1) For the love of God, deny it. Offering vague answers about “a private matter” or “speaking with your attorney” is as good as an admission of guilt in public opinion. And admitting that you didn’t have sex with Nikki Haley doesn’t mean that Davenport is going to make you go down the list of legislators you have slept with.
(2) And do not save your denial for the blog. I can tell you that the traffic will offer us only enough to buy a round of drinks.
If you need to reach me further on this matter, I will be in an undisclosed location for some alone time with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen. Please, try to keep that to yourself.
Charleston City Paper