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Down the Rabbit Hole in South Cackalacky

Earlier this week I did a brief post on the madness that's consumed the South Carolina Republican gubernatorial contest.

Long story short, a conservative blogger and former staffer to both Gov. Mark Sanford and state Rep. Nikki Haley "admitted" he had once had an "inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley, a former Sanford protege (and the beneficiary of an endorsement from Sanford's ex-wife) who has recently rocketed into first place in polls for the primary that will take place on June 8. Haley's denied everything, and the blogger, name of Will Folks (a somewhat shady dude whose departure from Sanford's staff was immediately caused by his conviction on domestic violence charges) has been trickling out highly circumstantial bits of data about his relationship with Haley and her campaign, but nothing that really proves an illicit affair, all the while hinting the real goods were still to come.

Haley's legion of very conservative supporters in and beyond South Carolina, including Sarah Palin and RedState blogger Erick Erickson, have treated the whole thing as a certain smear, with lots of innuendo that someone more powerful than Folks--perhaps one of her GOP gubernatorial rivals, perhaps satanic socialists fearful of Haley's wrathful righteousness--was behind it. And yesterday the saga seemed to take a new turn when Erickson put up a red-siren post saying that he had evidence Folks had accepted six-figure money to make the allegations, and that RedState would "name names" today.

Turns out that was sort some of joke by Erickson, meant to parody Folks' own media manipulation tactics, but that didn't keep ol' Erick from retailing some vague conjectures about the possible involvement of Lt. Gov. Andre "Stray Animals" Bauer in Folks' conspiracy (maybe that was part of the joke, too, though if I were Erick I'd have a libel lawyer close at hand).

Meanwhile, Haley says she'll deal with the allegations after the election's over, and everything's back to square one, with South Carolinians waiting to see if Folks has any real dirt. His last gambit was to release cell phone records showing that he and Haley seemed to spend a lot more time talking late at night than you'd normally expect from a politician and a part-time speechwriter, but it still proves nothing. Assuming Haley's innocent, you have to feel sympathy for her for having to endure suspicion for so long, but at least she's leading in the polls (and in fact, her campaign may benefit a great deal if Folks doesn't produce anything decisive). How about her primary rivals, whose campaigns have been totally robbed of oxygen by the furor? And then there are the citizens of the state, who aren't exactly witnessing a calm exchange of the candidates' pithy views on public policy (though the whole primary campaign has basically been a more-conservative-than-thou competition).

Certainly the entire episode is a reminder of the Palmetto State GOP's rich traditon of sex scandals and skullduggery. I will agree with Erickson on one thing: in his front-page teaser for his "joke" post pointing fingers at Andre Bauer, he said: "Let's go below the fold and down the rabbit hole." That's exactly where this campaign has taken us all.

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