South Carolina politics are mean and nasty, and never rougher than when the Republicans are battling it out with each other. Just ask John McCain from when he ran against W Bush in the Palmetto State primary in 2000.
Or, for that matter, ask just about any candidate in a seriously contested race in the state. Dirty politics were invented in South Carolina, then packaged for export to the rest of the nation by the late Lee Atwater and his political acolytes.
[This is a stark contrast to Virginia, where the moderate middle of independent voters really hate dirty campaigns and will often penalize a candidate viewed as taking the low road. But then, that's long been a distinction between the two states.]
This year, the spotlight has fallen on GOP candidate Nikki Haley, a state senator running for the Republican nomination for governor. It's a classic case. For awhile, Haley was ignored. An Indian-American who'd never run for statewide office, Haley was trailing along in fourth place.
But then she started bashing her male colleagues as an "old boys club" (which they are), and began moving up in polls. Suddenly, two long-time political operatives associated with other campaigns claimed they'd had sexual liaisons with her (she's married), and another state senator made inappropriate remarks about her ethnic background.
This is par for the course in S.C. Maybe even tame. Politics in SC has a long tradition of "whispering campaigns"--usually word of mouth libels, sometimes backed up by cheap flyers placed on windshields in church parking lots and at campaign rallies.
The whispering is almost always about race, sex, illegitimate children--and homosexuality. What's particularly strange about all this is that the people actually elected often really do have these skeletons in their closet.
Beloved Sen. Strom Thurmond had an illegitimate black child, rumored for years, but finally proven only after he died. Thurmond's successor in the Senate--bachelor Lindsey Graham--has long been rumored to be gay. As are a couple other powerful state GOP figures.
Sometimes, SC voters will overlook these factors, despite the whispering, if they like the way a candidate handles the controversy (and if the other candidates are have competency issues). Nikki Haley may be benefitting from that. She's standing up to the accusations, while current Lt. Governor Andre Bauer is viewed by many as embarassingly erratic and incompetent (so much so that almost everyone preferred that the embarassing Gov. Mark Sanford stay in office rather than elevate Bauer).
SC Republicans are also completely willing to overlook in their candidates what they would never tolerate in a Democratic candidate. But then, the initial qualification for many GOP office holders in the Palmetto State is simply that they "aren't Democrats."
No matter how flawed the GOP's nominee for governor, she or he will still be the overwhelming favorite to win election in November. And you can bet that the campaign will be a dirty one!