Lost in the unsubstantiated accusations of marital infidelity aimed at her -- as well as the ethnic slurs -- is this fact about Nikki Haley: She's Mark Sanford's political and ideological heir.
And yet she's considered the front-runner in the South Carolina GOP gubernatorial primary to replace Sanford that takes place tomorrow (a run-off will occur on June 22 if no one gets more than 50%).
In a way, this is an ironic turn of events given Sanford's embarrassing affair, his disappearance to Argentina, and even his stand-offs with the legislature. The thinking had been that South Carolina voters would opt for Sanford's opposite -- say a backslapping pol like state Attorney General Henry McMaster (R) -- rather than someone like Haley (R) who shares Sanford's views on lower spending and limited government.
Haley has been widely viewed as Sanford's handpicked successor, and Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny, has endorsed her. What's more, unlike other candidates in the field, Haley never asked Sanford to resign from office after the revelation of his affair.
Here's what the State newspaper wrote last year:
State Rep. Nikki Haley, a Sanford ally, urged the governor not to resign for the sake of the reform movement he initiated: limited, accountable government, lower spending and an emphasis on the market. Haley is seeking the GOP nomination for governor and is thought to be Sanford's chosen successor. In a statement Friday, she said, "I have major concerns about the viability of that movement and the direction our government could take under the lieutenant governor should Gov. Sanford resign." She added, "South Carolina cannot afford to go back to the good ol' boy system that so badly serves the taxpayers and undermines our government."
Outside of ideology, of course, Haley does represent significant change. She would be South Carolina's first female governor. She also would be its first Indian-American to win major statewide office. And those characteristics could very well be benefiting her right now.
But make no mistake: Haley winning the GOP primary -- and then the general election -- would almost be akin to Jeb Bush winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 -- and maybe even the general election -- after his brother's approval ratings sank to the 20s and 30s.