COLUMBIA -- State Rep. Nikki Haley defended her votes to take federal stimulus cash Tuesday hours after she released her first television ads criticizing two opponents in the GOP primary race for stances on federal bailout cash.
Haley told the audience at a televised debate that her votes to take stimulus cash were procedural. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed her Friday and praised her for fighting stimulus cash last year.
"Everybody that's here on the stage understands what procedural votes are," Haley told the Faith and Family Forum crowd in Columbia. "The final vote on the budget that contained the stimulus I voted against."
She said she consistently opposed the stimulus since then.
"What matters to the people of this state, what matters to the people of this country is the final vote that affects the people," she said.
Haley's ads -- the most negative ads in the GOP gubernatorial race to date -- immediately drew cries of hypocrisy from opponents.
The spot opens with pictures of her Republican rivals and critical labels. First comes an image of U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and the word "bailouts" written above it. That's followed by a picture of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and "stimulus spending," and then of Attorney General Henry McMaster with "career politicians."
"South Carolina can do better," a male announcer says as video plays showing Haley in the back of a truck, a barn and tractors in the background and a crowd in the foreground.
"Nikki Haley is a proven reformer and champion of conservative values and smaller government," the announcer says.
"These ads are a sad, hypocritical stretch for someone who voted for Barack Obama's stimulus not once but twice and dodged a position on the bailout until the day she announced for Governor," Luke Byars, Barrett's campaign manager, said in a statement.
During the debate televised on WIS, Barrett was questioned about his support for federal bank bailouts. Barrett said he voted against the bailout and then later for it but hasn't been hypocritical.
"It's not the same thing because I never said I didn't vote for it. Unfortunately Miss Haley did when she said she didn't vote for it," Barrett said. "A vote's a vote," Barrett told reporters after the debate.
Haley voted to sustain Gov. Mark Sanford vetoes that for a time nixed federal stimulus cash for the state budget. But she had earlier voted to use the federal bailout money in the budget and for an amendment limiting how that that money could be used in schools.
Bauer said it was "surprising that Nikki's first TV ad would be a negative attack -- especially a less than truthful attack." He expects voters are fed up with negative politics "and in the end, I think it will backfire against her."
McMaster, now in his second term as an elected official, is a former state GOP chairman who was appointed U.S. attorney by President Ronald Reagan. During the debate, McMaster, seated between Barrett and Haley, made light of the dustup. "I was getting a little scared sitting there between Nikki and Gresham," a line that brought chuckles from the crowd.
The four Republicans were asked about a variety of policy issues. All, for instance, said they'd support an immigration law similar to one Arizona passed that would allow police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants.
The GOP candidates debated for a half hour before three Democrat hopefuls took the stage for a half hour. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen is the only candidate who has paid to put television ads on the air. State Sen. Robert Ford long ago said he wouldn't raise that kind of money. State Education Superintendent Jim Rex said his lack of ads aren't a sign of weakness because he's already known well enough around the state.
"I don't know that TV ads make that much difference anymore," Rex said. "I'm getting a little sick of them, frankly."