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S.C. governor candidate Haley plays underdog to keep her edge

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2010

She survived a vicious Republican primary and now enjoys a double-digit lead in the polls over her Democratic rival in the race to succeed South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, but rising GOP star Nikki Haley said Thursday in an interview that she's taking nothing for granted.

"I still feel like I'm in last place, and I don't want that feeling to go away," Mrs. Haley, a South Carolina state representative who snagged one of the first endorsements of the midterm cycle from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, told The Washington Times during a two-day fundraising visit to Washington.

Mrs. Haley, the child of Indian immigrant parents, said she was pleased with her lead in the race against Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, but that she and other GOP candidates must continue to drive home the message to voters this November that the party will restore fiscal responsibility to government at the federal and state level.

Mrs. Haley spoke as House GOP leaders were releasing their "Pledge to America," a lengthy agenda of tax cuts, spending curbs and limited government. She supported their message and said Republican candidates will need to stick to the pledge if they want to win the seats needed to retake control of Congress.

"We need to get back to the basics of fiscal responsibility," said Mrs. Haley. "This is not about being Republican. It's about being a conservative."

Mrs. Haley is the clear favorite over Mr. Sheheen going into the final weeks of the general election in Republican-leaning South Carolina, even though Democrats once hoped the bitter, four-way GOP primary could give their candidate an opening.

The private event Thursday morning sponsored by the Republican Indian Committee, a political action committee, closed a two-day fundraising swing, including a Wednesday night event attended by Republican South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint.

"They just told me to stay strong, stay positive," Mrs. Haley said.

Jennifer Duffy, analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, thinks Mrs. Haley will win, but added the race is still one to watch.

"It's tough going for a Democrat in South Carolina," she said. "I doubt Mr. Sheheen can do it."

Despite Mrs. Palin's backing, Mrs. Haley needed to win a primary runoff to see off establishment-backed Rep. Gresham Barrett. The race was marred by racial slurs against Mrs Haley, as well as accusations of infidelity, which Mrs. Haley strongly denied.

She said Thursday that Democrats as well as Republicans in the state have rallied behind her since the June runoff win.

"I've had great support in South Carolina from both parties," she said. "Voters want to see a solid business person who knows the value of a dollar."

This week, she faced a new round of attacks. Mr. Sheheen, a lawyer and state senator, is running a TV ad saying Mrs. Haley, an accountant, has failed to pay income and property taxes.

"She calls for accountability, but it turns out she has a pattern of not paying taxes," Mr. Sheheen said.

Mr. Sheheen said the poll showing Mrs. Haley leading 52 percent to 36 percent was done by a month ago and predicted his campaign's ads will help "bring a change in momentum."

The Haley campaign has acknowledged the candidate was late but said she has paid all taxes and penalties.

Attending Mrs. Haley's Republican Indian Committee fundraiser was former GOP Virginia Sen. George Allen, whose 2006 re-election campaign was derailed in part after he used the word "macaca" to refer to young Indian-American videotaping, or "tracking," the event for the campaign of Democratic rival Jim Webb.

Mr. Allen apologized and said he didn't know the meaning of the word, which is widely considered a pejorative. He narrowly lost to Mr. Webb in an upset that fall.

Indian-American Republicans appeared to welcome Mr. Allen, a strong backer of the nuclear technology deal negotiated with India under President George W. Bush.

"If George Allen ever decides to run for office again and wants Indian-American support, we will be there for him," Armeane M. Choksi, president of the committee, said. "We'll pose for a picture for him. He's a friend and strong supporter."

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