Barrett: We didn't pressure blogger to confess Haley relationship

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/AP) - The blogger who rocked the state's political scene Monday by claiming to have had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley says he was pressured to disclose the affair by the campaign of fellow candidate Gresham Barrett.

In his original blog post on Monday, Folks said a "network of operatives has made it abundantly clear that in the process of 'taking down' Rep. Haley, they will also stop at nothing to humiliate me." Folks elaborated in an email Monday night that he believes Barrett is behind the takedown. "All of my sources pointed their fingers directly at the campaign of Gresham Barrett," Folks wrote.

Haley continues to say the alleged relationship with Folks never happened, and Barrett spokesman Luke Byars categorically denied that any pressure on Folks came from the Barrett campaign. "This is absolutely not true," Byars said. "Mr. Folks seems to be full of allegations lately without any proof."

Haley, an accountant and three-term legislator, is in a tight race for the GOP nomination with Rep. Barrett, Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster. With the primary only two weeks away, Folks' claim may threaten the wide lead Haley took over the Republican pack after being endorsed by Republican icon Sarah Palin and ex-first lady Jenny Sanford.

As reporters pressed Haley Monday night on the evidence that Folks claimed existed or why he would make a false claim, Haley appeared to shut further questions down. "I'm telling you there is nothing there," she said. "I'm not going to let this distraction to get to me. It's not worth my time."

She was on at least three talk shows with big audiences in Columbia, Greenville and Charleston denying Folks' claim. Sympathetic callers filled lines in the hours that followed with praise for how she handled the matter.

Folks also said Monday night he has extensive phone, text and email records that prove the relationship existed. The post says those records begin in November 2005 with an email in which Haley complimented Folks on an article praising her gubernatorial ambitions.

"We've been longtime Haley backers here at FITS," Folks wrote.

The controversial blogger did not say whether he planned on releasing his evidence.

Political scientist Neal Thigpen said he thinks most political activists won't believe Folks, but some tea party supporters could be swayed to support another candidate.

"It seems to me the whole thing is designed to stop Rep. Haley's momentum," said Thigpen, a Francis Marion University professor. "If it's Nikki's word against Will Folks', I know who I'd believe. ... But something like this can do her great damage."

Palin denounced Folks' claim on Facebook, saying she had warned Haley that she and her family would be targeted. Palin said she spoke with Haley and told her to hang in there.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.