WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - Fireworks of a political nature opened the GOP Candidates Forum Wednesday night when gubernatorial hopefuls Nikki Haley and Andre Bauer were asked about a second set of allegations that surfaced concerning Haley's fidelity just an hour before the forum was slated to begin.
A lobbyist who resigned from a Bauer's campaign claimed to have had a tryst with Haley. The allegation made Wednesday by lobbyist Larry Marchant is the second leveled Haley in the past two weeks. Her campaign vehemently denies both allegations.
"This is just disgusting politics," said Haley. "A couple weeks ago we started going double digits in the polls and then these allegations started popping up."
Neither claim has come with proof.
Marchant says their one-night stand happened in 2008 during a trip to Utah. He was married then and still is."I had no idea Mrs. Haley was going to be so defiant in her response," said Marchant. "I put my professional reputation on the line, my personal reputation on the line. I've got absolutely nothing to gain."
However, Marchant admits that it is "very hard" to prove allegations of a one-night affair.
Earlier Wednesday, Bauer asked for Marchant's resignation from the campaign saying during Wednesday night's forum, "When I got information I didn't feel comfortable with, where this campaign's going, I asked for his resignation."
Bauer's response sparked a heated discussion between the two candidates. Haley claimed the Bauer campaign had tried to submit the story Tuesday night.
"Y'all were fishing the story last night and you didn't fire him yesterday," said Haley. "Only when no one would take it seriously because he's a paid consultant that you decided to fire him today."
She called the entire ordeal "sick politics" and said "it reeks of everything that's wrong with the establishment."
Haley has focused much of her campaign on going against the political grain of mudslinging in state politics.
Haley, a 38-year-old married mother of two who vows she has been faithful over 13 years of marriage, is a tea party favorite in the four-way race for the GOP nomination to succeed the term-limited Sanford. She has been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her rivals privately say their internal polls show her with a lead.
Even in a state renowned for its dirty politics, Haley has faced more than her share this primary season. On Wednesday, she was preparing to strike back with a television ad set to air the following day. In it, Haley references the rougher side of campaigning.
"I've seen the dark side of our state's politics, and I know the bright side of our state's people," Haley says in the ad as images of her, husband Michael and their two children appear. "I have a vision of what South Carolina can be."
Marchant is a well-known lobbyist who has led efforts to pass school choice legislation in South Carolina. He told The Associated Press that he and Haley had a one-time sexual encounter in her room in a Salt Lake City hotel where they attended a school choice conference in June 2008.
He said he decided to go public after old rumors about a liaison were rekindled by Folks' unsubstantiated claims.
"I did not have any intention of going public," Marchant said Wednesday. "I kept getting calls from different people. I just felt like I owed Andre to disclose it to him. I did not do it until two days after I disclosed it to my wife."
Marchant said part of the reason he came forward was Haley's categorical denial last week of being unfaithful to her husband.
"It just gnawed at me to the point I had to confide in my wife and then we both made a joint decision that I was not going to push the issue but that if I was confronted, I was not going to lie about it," Marchant said.
"It was not an affair. It was just one time," Marchant said. "It was one of those things that happened. ... We just had a one-night indiscretion."
Marchant said Bauer asked for his resignation after a newspaper reporter began asking questions about the alleged tryst this week. Bauer declined to comment about it, but his campaign did take the unusual step of announcing the resignation for "inappropriate conduct not in keeping with the goals of this campaign."
Pearson told The Associated Press that Marchant "has a vested and clear personal and financial interest in bringing Nikki Haley down."
Bauer had paid Marchant's Black Label Strategies $21,361 since he formally opened his campaign account for governor in October. He also paid Black Label $29,099 in 2009, according to campaign finance reports.
Marchant said most of that money went to two salaries in his political consultant business, not to him.
"I'm not getting paid by anybody to do this. That is crazy," Marchant said.
Bauer has been running ads featuring former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who says the lieutenant governor "was tea party before there was a tea party."
Marchant, who was married at the time of the alleged tryst, said state Rep. Eric Bedingfield also attended the 2008 conference. Bedingfield confirmed he was there with Haley and Marchant but always in a group setting.
"I saw nothing inappropriate," said Bedingfield, R-Mauldin, who is not backing any candidate in the governor's race.
The candidates forum was broadcast Wednesday night on Live 5+, the digital channel of WCSC, the CBS affiliate in Charleston, SC.