A look ahead at governor's runoff

Sheheen, Haley and Barrett.

Conventional political wisdom says Gresham Barrett has too steep of a hill to climb to overtake Nikki Haley for the Republican gubernatorial nomination June 22.

Barring any additional scandal, pundits say, Haley should walk away with the win in the runoff election and earn the right to face Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen in the general election Nov. 2.

But Barrett remained upbeat Wednesday despite unofficial results showing the congressman from Westminster losing to the Lexington state lawmaker by a 2-1 margin in Tuesday's primary.

"I guess up in Oconee, they do call it a butt-whupping," he said. "It was a huge margin, but you know what the neat thing is? That's why you play the second half."

Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson said Wednesday that she will return to the Lowcountry soon to campaign.

"Our three best counties in the state were Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester," he said. "We're looking forward to the next two weeks."

Barrett said he will tweak his message, but he won't attack Haley.

"This is about my integrity. This is my name on the line," he said. "There's been a lot of talk over the last couple of weeks over things that just don't matter."

That talk included unproven, last-minute claims from two experienced Republican consultants -- including a consultant who had worked as a fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer -- that they had trysts with Haley.

She repeatedly denied the claims, saying no proof was offered and that they emerged only after polls showed her in the lead.

Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist, said it's not time to crown Haley the winner yet, "but let's face it, when you've been beaten 2-1 (like Barrett), it's a problem. ... I do think there was something to this sympathy vote."

A Public Policy Polling survey over the weekend found that most McMaster and Bauer supporters will break toward Barrett, but not by a large enough margin to give him the lead, director Tom Jensen said.

"The only way Haley's going to lose this thing -- or that it's even going to be close -- is if a new scandal breaks that can actually be proven," the poll concluded.

Jensen said the poll showed only 13 percent of state voters believed the claims that Haley had a tryst. "They said if they (the claims) were ever proven, it would be a big deal and Haley would be hurt significantly," he said. "Voters are just not buying it so far."

Jensen said the scandal, as painful as it might have been for Haley, might have helped her at the polls.

"Some folks felt she was being treated unfairly," he said. "Republicans in South Carolina are really sick of politics as usual. That was something that really came across in our polling ... All voters, including Republicans, are really rebelling against those kind of tactics, and that really worked to Haley's advantage."

Haley had $387,347.85 on hand as of her May 25 report, a report filed right around the time the scandal broke. Haley said that the scandal caused a spike in interest for her campaign, including a fresh influx of checks. Barrett had $647,626 on hand, according to his May 24 report.

Woodard said Barrett's real problem is going to be raising money for the runoff with his prospects of success so slim, but Barrett said Wednesday only one person he has called since election night has withdrawn his support.

Third- and fourth-place candidates S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster and Bauer talked with Barrett after the election, but they haven't endorsed anyone in the runoff.

Barrett said their backing would be a plus for him, but he said endorsements don't necessarily change the game.

"I guess there's one exception and that's if it's Sarah Palin," Barrett joked, referring to the former Alaska governor whose backing of Haley gave her an important boost.