Nikki Haley’s opponent gets religion in final days of South Carolina gubernatorial run-off

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Is Nikki Haley’s primary run-off opponent in the South Carolina gubernatorial race subtly using her religious background to try to alienate the Indian-American candidate born with the name “Nimrata Randhawa” from conservative voters?

Her opponent, Rep. Gresham Barrett, has been vocal about his deep Christian faith. Haley — although a baptized Methodist — was raised by Sikh parents, but converted to Christianity when she was 24.

One well-known Republican in the state thinks so, noting that Barrett’s last campaign commercial was about his faith. “You’re running for governor, not pastor,” the Republican said dismissively of Barrett.

Phillip Bowers, co-chairman of Barrett’s campaign, circulated an e-mail Friday afternoon suggesting Haley has lied about her religion. “There are lots of contradictions to her story. It’s not my place to question her faith, but I do question her honesty. If anyone finds the truth, please let me know,” said Bowers, in an email obtained by The Daily Caller.

The campaign denied being behind the email in a statement to Politico. But Barrett’s campaign has made his Christian faith a cornerstone of their strategy over the last several days.

In a press release about the “Character” ad, Barrett campaign manager Luke Byars said, “Gresham was brought up in a strong Christian family where his parents taught him the values of hard work, devotion to God and service to country. These core principles define exactly who Gresham is as a person – and they will guide him as South Carolina’s next governor.”

Barrett’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment. Tim Pearson, a Haley spokesman, asked to comment for this story, said in a statement that, “Nikki is focused on her message and her campaign to bring South Carolina’s government back to the people. Our opponents have tried to distract her before, and they’ll try again.  But the people of this state have proven to be so much better than this, and they’ll prove it again come Tuesday.”

Haley placed first among a host of Republicans vying for the gubernatorial seat being vacated by Gov. Mark Sanford. Even though Haley just missed receiving enough votes to avoid a run-off, Barrett has resisted calls to drop out. Some have speculated that he’s stayed in the race in the case Haley — who survived accusations of infidelity in the primary — faced any more scandals.

The Republican, who claims not to have a dog in the primary fight, said voters shouldn’t be surprised if a bombshell story regarding Haley’s faith was dropped this weekend, where it could level the most damage before Tuesday’s run-off. Warren Thompkins, a consultant to Barrett’s campaign, it turns out, has a history of using religion to appeal to conservative voters, according to the Republican.

A 2007 article in Harpers Magazine gives Tompkins credit for George W. Bush’s victory over John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary, notorious for its untrue rumors that the Arizona senator had fathered an illegitimate black child. One of Tompkins’s primary jobs, the article noted, was to mobilize the religious right for Bush. “The first thing we had to do was build a wall between McCain and the social conservatives,” Tompkins was quoted saying in the article. “If we didn’t do that, we were dead.”

In prior days, Barrett has repeatedly referenced his religion. In a recent debate, Barrett said his Christian faith is “who I am, it’s what I am as a person.

“There are absolutes. Things are not shades of gray, there are absolutes in our life, and there are 10 of them if you want to be exact.” In the same debate, Haley said she is “very proud of my parents and very proud of the way they raised me and I don’t want to say anything against them or against my religious faith.”

A CNN reporter claimed to have surveyed nearly two dozen faith leaders this week about the religion question, and only a few predicted that will hurt her.

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