Posted: June 2nd, 2010 09:48 PM ET
From CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby
In an effort to address an earlier claim of infidelity leveled against her, Nikki Haley released a new campaign ad Wednesday that prominently features her husband, Michael.
(CNN) - A well-connected South Carolina lobbyist and political consultant claimed Wednesday that he had a one night stand with gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley – making him the second man to allege an affair with the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Larry Marchant, a familiar face at the South Carolina State House who has lobbied legislators on behalf of the insurance industry and the state Chamber of Commerce, told CNN he had a “one night, one night only” sexual relationship with Haley at a school choice conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2008.
Marchant offered no specific evidence of the affair and the Haley campaign forcefully rejected the latest accusation.
“I just wanted to tell the truth,” Marchant told CNN in a telephone interview. “She can deny it. Let the people decide. I know what happened, and my conscience is clear.”
Marchant said he and Haley, a state Representative, grew “very close” in 2008 when she served on the House insurance subcommittee and he was chief lobbyist for the insurance industry. Both Marchant and Haley are married with children.
“This was nothing more than two political colleagues who work very closely together for many years having one inappropriate relationship,” he said.
Until this week, Marchant was also a top campaign adviser to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer – one of Haley’s three rivals in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
Campaign finance records show that Bauer's campaign has paid Marchant’s political consulting firm more than $50,000 in the past year.
Bauer’s campaign fired Marchant on Wednesday for what it deemed “inappropriate conduct,” and Marchant made the allegation shortly after news of his dismissal became public.
Marchant said he revealed the relationship to his pregnant wife last week after conservative blogger Will Folks made his own claim, without proof, that he had an “inappropriate physical relationship” with Haley in 2007. He said he informed Bauer “at the end of last week” after reporters began chasing rumors about the alleged tryst.
Haley’s campaign rejected Marchant’s allegation as “a false and outrageous desperate attack from a losing candidate's paid campaign consultant in the final week of the race.”
“As Nikki Haley rises in the polls, the good old boys in Columbia see their taxpayer-funded fraternity party coming crumbling down, and they will say or do anything to hold onto their power,” said Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson. “This is South Carolina politics at its worst. The people of our state deserve better, and when Nikki Haley is Governor, they'll get it."
Haley’s campaign questioned Marchant’s credibility, pointing out his financial stake in the Bauer campaign and his arrest in Columbia last December on DUI charges.
Marchant said he has had “very little contact” with Haley since she announced her gubernatorial bid last year. He did say, however, that he sent her a text message after Folks made his accusation last week “saying I thought she handled it very well.”
Along with Haley and Bauer, Attorney General Henry McMaster and Rep. Gresham Barrett are also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nod.
An adviser to the Barrett campaign, which last week denied pushing rumors about Haley and Folks, sent a wire story about Marchant's allegation to reporters shortly after the news broke Wednesday