Ex-Clinton Operative George Stephanopoulos Presses Nikki Haley: Will You Embarrass South Carolina?

Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday again highlighted charges of adultery against Republican Nikki Haley. He pressed the South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, demanding to know if she'd embarrass the state with scandal.

After reading a quote from a voter, the former operative to scandal-plagued Bill Clinton fretted, "Can you assure South Carolina voters that they're not going to be embarrassed if they elect you?" [Audio available here.]

The ABC host referenced claims, touted by Republican primary opponents, that she had been unfaithful. Stephanopoulos quoted, "And last night, the man you face in the runoff, Congressman Barrett, said 'Character is not one of the things that matters, it's the only thing that matters.'"

Perhaps previewing the media strategy against Haley, the journalist challenged, "Do you expect more incoming during the runoff?"

This is the second time Stephanopoulos played up rumors against Haley. On Monday, he marveled, "And down in South Carolina, they can't just seem to get enough of it. In the gubernatorial primary, the leading candidate embroiled in a bit of a sex scandal."

Noting phone calls between the Republican and the man who accused her of having an affair, Stephanopoulos gossiped, "Something like 600 phone conversations. Boy, that state is going through a lot."

A transcript of the June 9 segment, which aired at 7:04am EDT, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yesterday on GMA, we unveiled America's frustration index. It's at a whopping 67, the highest in 20 years. And as Jon Karl said, voters made that clear. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas may have escaped that with the establishment and incumbents. But the establishment took hits just about everywhere else, especially South Carolina, where Nikki Haley, who wasn't well known when the governor's race began, has beaten out the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, and a four-term member of Congress to take a big lead in the runoff. And state Representative Nikki Haley joins us now. Congratulations on last night, Representative Haley. Is that what you saw last night? Voters venting their frustration?

NIKKI HALEY: You know, what I think what we saw was the fact was voters want elected officials who remember who it is they work for. They want someone that understands the value of the dollar. They are tired of back room deals. They want to make sure there's more transparency and accountability. And it certainly showed in South Carolina. I think we're going to show it across the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You did face a very, very tough campaign. I know South Carolina has a reputation for that. As Jon Karl reported, two men, who had some connections to rival campaigns, said they had affairs with you. And last night, the man you face in the runoff, Congressman Barrett, said "Character is not one of the things that matters, it's the only thing that matters." Do you expect more incoming during the runoff?

HALEY: You know, I mean, the one thing we noticed was, we were "Nikki who" about six weeks ago. And then, all of a sudden, it showed we had a double-digit lead in the polls. We had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us. Our opponents got together. They threw as many distractions as they could. But, we stayed very determined. All it did was made us more focused on making sure the voice of the people were heard. And I think it proved last night. We got 49 percent of the vote. We won 42 out of 46 counties. I think the people said we've had enough. This is about jobs. This is about, you know, the economy. This is about making sure that elected officials know the value of a dollar. And this is the fact they do not want dirty politics in South Carolina.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your voters, Martha Clarke of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, told USA Today, "Our state doesn't need any more attention in the national press for ridiculous behavior." Can you assure South Carolina voters that they're not going to be embarrassed if they elect you?

HALEY: You know, the thing is I can assure South Carolina voters, is, no, they won't be embarrassed if they elect me. But someone who will get the voice of the people out. We are long past electing someone because they look good in a picture and hold a baby well. If they're not going to work for the people. If they're not going to remember what it means to be an elected official, they don't need to be there. This is a time when people are frustrated. They're tired of the fact that unemployment is high. They're tired of the fact that the economy is suffering. And they're tired of the fact there's too much intrusion from Washington. And they want it all to stop. I'm guaranteed to do that. I'm going to fight every step of the way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sarah Palin called you one of her momma grizzly bears. Did she make the difference in this race?

HALEY: You know, what we saw is we were trending up in the polls. We had an agenda and points that we wanted more accountability in government. We wanted every legislator to vote on the record. We wanted term limits in South Carolina. We wanted our legislators to disclose their incomes. And- So, we saw the message was resonating. We saw that we were moving up in the polls. But, when Sarah Palin showed up, it solidified and gave us credibility, that this was not someone that was another elected official. This was someone that wanted to give the voice back to the people and I'm very grateful to her for that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We only have a few seconds left. You confident South Carolina is ready for the first female governor in their history?

HALEY: I think South Carolina is ready for Nikki Haley. And I'm going to do everything to make them proud.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org