Conservative South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, Nikki Halley.

UPDATE  5/25/2010 9:15: The Will Folks-Nikki Haley story gets more complicated. Folks has lawyered up, claimed that the Haley campaign has not requested the removal of the post claiming the affair, and has threatened to release text messages and e-mails proving it. He also claims that no lawyer from the Haley camp has called to mention the words, “libel” or “defamation” to him.

Folks’ latest post mentions a rumor I also heard yesterday – that Folks and Haley ginned up this scandal together.  This seems implausible, but it is absolutely being talked about and gaining steam in Columbia. If true, it is working perfectly. Will Folks is believed to be the villain and is gaining plenty of new hits to his site, while Haley was taking hours of sympathetic phone calls on talk-radio yesterday; the callers believe she is a victim of the media. (How Palin-like!)

So far only the details Folks has provided have been confirmed. We know, as he claimed, that S.C. media outlets were working on this story before his admission. I would expect Folks to begin releasing correspondence that at least shows the formerly friendly relationship he had with Haley soon.

Many conservative voters in S.C.  are going to be bitterly disappointed if this turns out to be true.

Original Post: Carolina gubernatorial candidate, Nikki Haley probably had an affair with political blogger, gadfly, and operative Will Folks – who is a one man clearinghouse for Palmetto state rumors. Folks posted this morning that he once had an “inappropriate physical relationship” with the very attractive, and recently-favored Haley. Haley denies it.

I’m told that the affair occurred in 2008 when Folks was working with Haley on her Congressional re-election campaign. Haley was married at the time.

Folks is a former spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford who left after several personal fights and wild political scandals. (He was a useful source in my profile of Gov. Sanford last year.) His reputation since leaving the governor’s office has only increased. He has become South Carolina’s essential political blogger.

In fact, Folks is like the Anna Wintour of South Carolina politics, generally unknown to the larger public, but within the right circles, revered and feared. He is so plugged-in that most political stories in South Carolina appear on his blog before they make the daily papers. I believe he remains a confidential source of advice and comment for Governor Sanford.

At first, I thought that Folks may be pulling his largest stunt ever. Just knowing his character, I believed that he was parodying the style of “affair disclosures.” Also, there is the timing; the primary will be June 8. But I now believe, after speaking with a few South Carolina sources, that Folks had a lawyer go over these words and that he feels genuinely threatened.

After alleging that there is a conspiracy to take down Haley and himself through a by a thousand political cuts, Folks justifies the disclosure by saying, “I refuse to have someone hold the political equivalent of a switch-blade in front of my face and just sit there and watch as they cut me to pieces.” That sounds like Folks.

In judging the veracity of Folks’ admission, it should be noted that Columbia, South Carolina is one of the most treacherous, gossiping, and self-obsessed political capitals on earth. Everyone there talks, and  whispers about an affair between Haley and Folks are nearly a year old at this point. Political consultants were wondering two years ago why Haley’s car was so often seen in front of Folks’ home.

Corey Hutchins, a whip-smart, and well-sourced reporter for the Columbia-based alt-weekly, Free Times, reports that Folks admitted to the affair almost a year ago. If true, this would put to rest the defense that these rumors are only coming out because the primary is in two weeks. The AP, the Free Press and other South Carolina sources have been working on this story for over a month, apparently badgering Folks.

Some conservatives, like Sarah Palin and Erick Erickson have rushed to Haley’s defense. Erickson contends that hot women who are married to military men don’t sleep with poor, ugly bloggers. A good argument, but it doesn’t apply in this case.

There are a few unflattering pictures of Folks out there. But I happen to know that Will Folks is a bit of a ladies man. He is very funny, extremely capable, and a raconteur. From what I hear, Folks is rumored to have had “physical relationships” with nearly every female consultant in the state. His affair with Haley supposedly began after he had done some writing work for her.

Some have speculated that, despite his prior support and work for Haley, Folks is acting out against her social conservatism and her association with Jenny Sanford, whom Folks has battled with since the early days of Gov. Sanford’s first gubernatorial campaign.

That part is true. Folks isn’t exactly Palinesque on the social issues. He writes on his site: “On social issues, we are primarily libertarians but readily admit that Aaron Sorkin and Annie Savoy have corrupted our good girl, Calvinist upbringings.” But there are good reasons to believe his prior (and continuing) support of her candidacy isn’t fake.

Despite his differences with Jenny (and Mark) Sanford, if the Sanford’s are behind a candidate, Folks probably is too. He is a fiscally conservative,  and libertarian leaning  the type that is coming out to support Haley all cycle. He has worked with her before. And so it is hard not to take this morning’s admission as anything other than genuine.

If this turns out to be true, and I think it will, the affair will be a black mark not only on Haley’s promising campaign, but on Jenny Sanford who is about to launch a book-tour, and Sarah Palin who seems determined to go to the mat for Haley. Unless I’m mistaken it would also be one of the first great adultery scandals for a female politician in the United States.

Photo from Flickr account,  NikkiHaleySC