A History of Political Dirty Tricks in South Carolina

South Carolina's notorious for its history of mudslinging.

ByABC News
February 11, 2016, 4:58 PM

— -- When it comes to presidential politics, South Carolina’s trademark southern charm goes right out the window. Forget about the mint juleps and hushpuppies, the Palmetto State is notorious for its history of mudslinging, whisper campaigns and vicious rumors.

South Carolina can still be the place that chews up and spits out presidential candidates.

Here’s a look back at the history of some of the state’s notable political dirty tricks:

John McCain, 2000 presidential election

In his first presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain was successful in nabbing the New Hampshire primary, beating George W. Bush there. McCain then turned his focus to the South Carolina, a state that political analysts thought McCain would win. Instead, he was met with the nastiest of rumors.

According to reporting in The Nation magazine, a push poll (a ploy to disseminate information rather than collect it) called voters to ask, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"

The push poll implied that John and Cindy McCain’s 9-year-old daughter Bridget, whom they adopted from an orphanage in Bangladesh, was actually the Arizona senator’s love child.

And that wasn’t all: Rumors also circulated that McCain was a traitor when he served in Vietnam and that his wife was a drug addict, according to The New Yorker magazine.

McCain lost the South Carolina Republican primary to George W. Bush, whose campaign denied being responsible for the rumors. Bush said at the time that he would fire anyone on his staff if he found out they were involved.

McCain slammed the allegations as "libel."

"There wasn't a damn thing I could do about the subterranean assaults on my reputation except to act in a way that contradicted their libel," McCain wrote in his 2002 memoir "Worth the Fighting for," according to The Arizona Republic.

Nikki Haley, 2010 gubernatorial election

In 2009, then-South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley announced she would be running for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. Haley, the first Indian-American elected to the South Carolina legislature, was polling last in the race and was lifted by a surprise endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

But, that wasn’t the only surprise Haley received three weeks ahead of the primary.

Will Folks, a South Carolina political blogger, claimed to have had an “inappropriate physical relationship” with the married GOP gubernatorial hopeful.

Haley denied the allegations, called them "categorically false" and said in a statement that she had "been 100% faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage." But shortly thereafter, lobbyist Larry Marchant claimed he too had an affair with her. Marchant was serving as a political consultant to Haley’s main rival in the race, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

Haley vowed to resign if Marchant's or Folks' claims were proven true.

Mitt Romney, 2008 presidential campaign

Romney was both on the giving (though not directly) and receiving end of some ugly mudslinging.

Around the holidays, fake Christmas cards featuring controversial quotes from the Book of Mormon were sent to South Carolina Republicans claiming to be from Mitt Romney and his family, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Romney allies (not directly affiliated with his campaign) started the website PhoneyFred.org bashing fellow Republican candidate Fred Thompson without Romney’s knowledge.

As the New York Times reported at the time: “The Web site, which questioned Mr. Thompson’s conservative credentials and labeled him ‘Fancy Fred, Five O’Clock Fred, Flip-Flop Fred, McCain Fred, Moron Fred, Playboy Fred,’ among other monikers…”

The site was taken down once discovered by reporters.