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ACOSTA (voice-over): For Nikki Haley, the road to South Carolina's governor's mansion has felt like a highway through hell.
NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: It has been a brutal few weeks leading up to the primary, and we have had a lot to go through.
ACOSTA: As in the accusations that the state lawmaker carried on two separate extramarital affairs, allegations Haley's denied.
But in a state where political smears have eaten candidates alive, something unexpected happened. Haley crushed her competition in the Republican primary for governor, capturing 49.5 percent of the vote, nearly avoiding a runoff, a runoff the polls suggest she'll win.
ACOSTA (on camera): There is a political narrative out there that some of these allegations against you actually helped your campaign. What do you think of that?
HALEY: I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. What it showed was that the people rose above it.
I have an amazing husband.
ACOSTA (voice-over): At a campaign stop in Florence, joined by her husband, Haley agreed the voters deserved answers to the allegations.
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife.
ACOSTA: Considering the sex scandal that nearly brought down the state's current governor, Mark Sanford.
HALEY: I think public officials have to answer to the voters. What's sad is when public officials have to answer to negative false accusations.
That's where all of this went wrong. There was no proof. There was nothing that validated it, yet, all of a sudden, it became the story.
ACOSTA: Haley, who's half-Indian, has also faced ethnic slurs and questions about her religion. She says she converted to Christianity after growing up in the Sikh faith.
HALEY: I think everybody will look back at this election and say that's what not to do.
ACOSTA: Former state GOP chairman Katon Dawson says the attacks backfired.
KATON DAWSON, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOP CHAIRMAN: Obviously it backfired at the polls. Republican voters will only tolerate so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gresham, what are you?
GRESHAM BARRETT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: An honest conservative.
ACOSTA: Still, there is a whiff of the campaign's dark moments in this spot from Haley's Republican rival, Gresham Barrett.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A military man who makes tough decisions. Christian family man who wouldn't embarrass us. Gresham, you made me -- want to vote for you.
BARRETT: I'd be honored.
ACOSTA: But it's Haley who's the rising Tea Party powerhouse against the new health care law in favor of offshore oil drilling and drawing big guns like Sarah Palin to her side. She, too, aggressively courts conservative women to her cause.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It's not kid gloves down here, right? It -- they play a little rough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They come out swinging.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But they -- but they don't call us steel magnolias for nothing.
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