COLUMBIA -- Nikki Haley trounced Gresham Barrett on Tuesday to win the GOP's nomination for governor, breaking gender and ethnic boundaries, and sending a message to the Republican establishment: Conservatives are tired of entrenched politicians and they're sick of the status quo.
Haley, a 38-year-old married mother of two who overcame unsubstantiated accusations of adultery, is the daughter of immigrant parents from India and the first woman in South Carolina's history to win the nomination for governor from one of the two major parties.
She handily defeated Barrett -- a sitting congressman who spent three times as much money on the race -- with 65 percent of the vote to Barrett's 35 percent, according to unofficial results with all precincts reporting.
She will face Vincent Sheheen, the Democrats' nominee and a state senator from Camden, in November.
Haley won big on a day that saw other historic primary election results in the state. Tim Scott is hoping to become the state's first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction; and six-term U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis was easily defeated, victim of an apparent anti-incumbent sentiment.
Haley's popularity soared with the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Haley was not hurt by claims she cheated on her husband, an attack she called the "dark side of South Carolina politics."
Haley said the race proved what an "underdog campaign and this message of reform" could accomplish.
"I want to thank the good people of this state. When there was just 10 people in the room and I said, 'If you like my message, go out and tell 10 people' ... you did," Haley told her supporters late Tuesday at the
State Museum in Columbia. She said her campaign is about more than breaking the glass ceiling and smashing ethnic barriers.
"This is a story about determination and a story about a movement, the idea of government being open and accountable to the people," Haley said.
Barrett said he will work for Haley to win in November. "We need strong conservative Republican leadership in Columbia that will cut taxes, reform spending, create jobs and get this economy going again," Barrett said. The loss puts an end to his political career -- at least in the short term, because he did not seek re-election.
At one time, Haley, a state representative from Lexington, was considered a long shot, with little money and poor name recognition. But she won support over time and went on to become a tea party favorite. Palin's endorsement helped push Haley to front-runner status.
Sheheen said he is the clear choice over Haley in substance and leadership. He characterized Haley as a divisive figure.
Haley pitched herself as a government reformer and anti-establishment crusader who wanted to remind elected officials who they work for, a message that resonated with voters.
She made government spending and transparency the cornerstone of her campaign. Her gender was never a central theme, although at a campaign stop in North Charleston in late April, she said women can win if they run in South Carolina.
Few women hold public office because few run, Haley said.
The state Legislature has the lowest percentage of women of any state general assembly. South Carolina has had a handful of women in high elected office, including Inez Tenenbaum, a former state education superintendent and a past Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, and former Lt. Gov. Nancy Stevenson, according to Lacy Ford, chairwoman of the University of South Carolina history department.
Ford also noted that Haley is on a short list of ethnically diverse gubernatorial nominees in South Carolina. In 1990, Theo Mitchell, who is black, was the Democrats' nominee for governor.
The race to become the GOP's nominee for governor drew national attention. Haley faced accusations from two men that she was unfaithful to her husband of 13 years -- which she denied.
She also fought off a racial slur by a state senator who called her a "raghead," directed at her Indian-American descent.
Haley spent about $480,000 on her gubernatorial run, according pre-election disclosure forms, the latest available. Barrett spent more than $2 million.