I don’t have any particular insight into the ongoing political scandal in South Carolina, but I do know the two primary players involved: political consultant Will Folks and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley.
I met Folks, a hugely entertaining character, in South Carolina in 2008 when I was working on a story about Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination and was writing about the state’s history of campaign dirty tricks. He was quoted in the story and I later interviewed him for an online item. Here’s an excerpt:
Q. South Carolina has had a reputation for dirty politics for a long time. Is that reputation justified?
A. Things are probably a lot worse than most people think. You have political consultants who know only one way to play the game, and that’s to take the other guy’s head off. It’s sworn enemy versus sworn enemy. We are almost eight years removed from the Bush-McCain primary fight in 2000 and yet there are relationships that remain broken from that fight. Bush-McCain exposed at a national level the way campaigns have always been run here. The problem is that any time you have a largely uninformed and uneducated electorate, that kind of lowest common denominator mudslinging can be effective. But I do think that 2000 was the high-water mark for that type of campaign. South Carolinians, bless our hearts, may not be the brightest bunch right off the bat but it’s tough to fool us twice. Even a lot of people who voted for Bush in 2000 were turned off by the right-wing scare tactics. But local races down here are still very dirty. I’ve learned that if you don’t take the bait, negative campaigning usually backfires. But things do get messy because nine out of ten times mud is met by more mud.
Folks was very anti-Romney at that time but he put me in touch with one of his clients who supported him, and for whom he was seeking media coverage: Haley, then a state representative. We had coffee in downtown Columbia; I don’t remember much about the conversation but since Haley and I talked about issues generally peripheral to my story, I didn’t cite her in the piece.
Folks and Haley were quite chummy back then, though as I said above I have no idea of what to make of the current scandal.