State Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington fell just short of winning outright Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor.
Haley, a Tea Party darling, garnered nearly half of all GOP votes. U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett from Westminster claimed second in the four-way GOP contest but trailed Haley badly.
The two, who previously have tussled in televised debates over who is the true conservative, will face off in a June 22 runoff unless Barrett concedes the race before then.
The eventual GOP winner then must begin the long march to November’s general election against the Democratic nominee for governor, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, who glided easily to victory in his party’s Tuesday primary.
“We knew from the beginning it was us vs. the establishment,” Haley said Tuesday night, addressing a room of supporters in Columbia. “We were settling (in South Carolina) for a Republican House, a Republican Senate, a Republican governor. I won’t stop until we get a conservative House, a conservative Senate, a conservative governor.”
Barrett, in a speech to his supporters in downtown Greenville, said he is prepped for the runoff battle.
“We’re in the runoff, and I’m excited about that,” Barrett said. “Now, we’ve got two weeks. … We’re going to finish strong, and we’re going to make history.”
The two are fighting to succeed outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford, a two-term Republican, and secure the $100,078-a-year job.
Garnering only a fraction of the vote, two longtime GOP politicians — state Attorney General Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer — conceded they were out of the race. Neither issued an endorsement Tuesday.
Haley, a six-year member of the S.C. House who has won endorsements from former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former S.C. first lady Jenny Sanford, has run an anti-establishment campaign, calling for more on-the-record votes in the Legislature, term limits for lawmakers and increased auditing of state agencies. In the Legislature, her bills to translate her ideas into law have faltered, the majority never making it beyond the House committee level.
With little money, many political observers had written Haley’s candidacy off. Others speculated her ties to Sanford, caught in a sex scandal, would doom her campaign. But twin endorsements from Palin and Jenny Sanford catapulted Haley from back-of-the-pack status to front-runner.
Barrett, who spent six years in the S.C. House and the last eight years in Congress, has run a pro-business campaign, centered on ending the economic downturn in South Carolina’s by attracting new industry and helping existing ones, retraining the state’s workers for high-tech jobs and overhauling the state’s tax code.
In the campaign’s last weeks, Barrett siphoned off some McMaster and Bauer voters while retaining his base of Upstate support, social conservatives and members of the state’s business community. But he has clashed with members of the Tea Party for his 2008 vote for the federal financial bailout.
Haley repeatedly has referenced Barrett’s bailout vote during debates as proof Barrett is not a true conservative. Barrett has fired back that Haley cast a vote last year in favor of South Carolina accepting federal stimulus money to offset state budget cuts.
But the biggest accusations of the campaign season — that Haley has been unfaithful to her husband twice — have not stuck. During the past two weeks, two men have claimed to have had inappropriate sexual relations with Haley. She categorically denied the allegations.