Dominant, SC's Haley Heads To Runoff

| Tue Jun. 8, 2010 9:32 PM EDT

Suspiciously timed allegations of extramarital affairs in the weeks before tonight's primary couldn't stop Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley. Endorsed by Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, Haley all but swept aside the salacious claims of infidelity made by a conservative blogger and South Carolina political consultant, and scored a dominant victory tonight. Forty-nine percent of Republican voters chose her, while the next highest vote-getter, Rep. Grisham Barrett, received less than half that, with 22 percent support.

But would Haley have reached or surpassed the 50 percent mark without the affair allegations? If she'd cleared this hurdle, she would've surpassed the threshold requiring a run-off vote against the number two candidate in the primary. Instead, Barrett will challenge Haley, a Barrett aide tells Politico, in a June 22 run-off to decide who gets the South Carolina GOP's nomination for the fall election.

Obviously, Haley would've rather won outright in today's primary and avoided a few weeks of intraparty battling. Worse yet, the 14 days between now and the Haley-Barrett face-off will give the second-place candidate more time to harp on the allegations that dogged Haley in the past two weeks. Then again, if Haley had surpassed 50 percent, she'd likely face similar questions from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen, who won today's primary with 59 percent of the votes.

On one hand, Haley's victory is a high-profile win for female candidates on a night in which we'll likely see victories from California's Meg Whitman, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, and Carly Fiorina, a GOP US Senate candidate. Both powerful executives turned Republican politicians, Whitman and Fiorina entered today's primaries leading in the polls, and have a good shot at claiming their respective GOP candidacies.

On the other, as National Democratic Governors Association director Nathan Daschle has said (via Real Clear Politics), Haley's victory is just as much a win for Democrats: "Democrats are the clear winner in both tonight's primaries. The divisive, ugly GOP primary has done nothing but turn off voters who are tired with politics-as-usual. The next two weeks promise a race to the bottom as Nikki Haley and Gresham Barrett battle it out for the nomination."