COLUMBIA -- More than 30 percent of Nikki Haley's campaign cash has come from outside South Carolina, more than three times what her opponent Vincent Sheheen has raised out of state in their race for governor.

Previous coverage

Sheheen lagging Haley in cash race, published 10/19/10

Sheheen's campaign quickly seized on the news.

"The truth is Nikki Haley claims to be an outsider, but more than 100 PACs have bought and paid for her vote," Sheheen campaign manager Trav Robertson said of the Republican state representative.

"No other candidate who has run in South Carolina history, to my knowledge, has ever gotten as much money from outside the state as Nikki Haley has."

Haley's campaign said Sheheen's campaign disclosure forms show the Democratic state senator has raised about 15 percent of his money from lawyers.

"Conservative, reform-minded business people from in state and out of state support our campaign," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said. "We're proud of that and believe South Carolinians will find that more acceptable than a candidate who has been bought and paid for by trial lawyers."

Lakhwinder Singh, who lives in Jamaica, N.Y., was one of several Indian-Americans across the country to send a check to Haley, whose parents emigrated from India to build a new life in South Carolina. Singh contributed $1,000 after he met Haley at a fundraiser in New York.

He said he has friends in South Carolina, but Haley's campaign is most important to him because of their shared heritage. He said Indian-Americans also rallied around Bobby Jindal in his successful run for governor of Louisiana.

"We are Indians and she is also an Indian," Singh said. "We like to help our community."

Indian immigrant Ram Singh of New York said he gave $250 to Haley because he wants to encourage a younger generation of Indian-Americans to pursue public service.

"I don't know her personally," Ram Singh said. "But I have been in this country for 40 years, I am from the same place that she originally came from. I just felt like helping her. I am American now, and she's American too."

It's natural for voters in ethnic groups to root for candidates who share their ethnic background, said Brian Brox, an assistant political science professor at Tulane University.

Louisiana has seen the phenomenon not only with Jindal, the nation's first prominent Indian-American officeholder, but also with U.S. Rep. Ahn Cao, R-La., the first Vietnamese- American congressman.

An article in the Hindustan Times noted that Haley has attended at least half a dozen galas organized by the Indian-American community, and estimated that she may have raised $250,000 at them.

At one event in New Jersey, Haley told the audience that she wanted to open up avenues for business ties between South Carolina and India.

Sheheen, whose ancestors emigrated from Lebanon in the late 19th century, has experienced similar support on a smaller scale, receiving contributions from the Arab-American Leadership PAC and from James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

Zogby, an active Democrat, met Sheheen in Washington and found him "real impressive."

Sheheen's Lebanese heritage is a "matter of pride" for Zogby, who shares the same ethnicity. "His opponent isn't the only one who comes from a diverse background," he added.

"Any group wants to have representation," Brox said. "If someone understands your community and how you fit into American society, you want to help them continue to have a voice in policy-making."

Brox said Cao's and Jindal's support among their ethnic groups hasn't caused much blow back among voters, though the quantity of their out-of-state donations has been an issue.

About 873 of Haley's 3,967 contributions listed on her most recent campaign disclosure form came from states outside South Carolina.

While only 22 percent of her donations came from out of state, those donors were more generous and contributed 31 percent of her $2.16 million.

That compares with 143 out-of-state donors to Sheheen, who listed a total of 3,383 donors. The out-of-state donors contributed slightly less than 10 percent of his cash.

During a campaign stop in Charleston last month, Sheheen criticized Haley for campaigning more outside of South Carolina, saying she's running "for governor of the United States."

Furman University political science professor Glen Halva-Neubauer said he was not surprised by the out-of-state giving.

"I think it's not so much about Democrat versus Republican," he said. "What I see is the nationalization of the South Carolina's governor's race."

Halva-Neubauer said that nationalization happened when former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed Haley. Palin's pull is evidence of 2012 presidential politics at play, he said, and a strengthening of Palin's political standing.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who Haley supported in his 2008 presidential campaign, runs a Massachusetts- based political action committee that contributed $17,500 to Haley.

Haley has received relatively more national attention, including a Newsweek cover, since her June primary win.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771. Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.