Republican gubernatorial hopeful Gresham Barrett said Wednesday that front-runner Nikki Haley was making only limited campaign appearances in advance of Tuesday's runoff before being put "back in her cage" by her handlers.
"We're doing a lot of rallies, and we're out and about talking to lots of voters," Barrett said during a campaign stop at Stooges Cafe in Bluffton. "She's doing one small event a day, and they're putting her back in her cage."
Barrett's staff later said "it was a poor choice of words on an important issue." Campaign manager Luke Byars accused Haley of putting her campaign on lockdown "in an attempt to run out the clock."
Haley's campaign denounced the criticism as hypocritical.
"That kind of rhetoric is, at best, disrespectful, and doesn't fit with the congressman's pledge to run a positive, issue-focused campaign," Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson said.
A campaign schedule from Barrett lists 14 campaign events in the past week.
Haley's camp declined to provide a schedule but criticized Barrett for missed votes in Washington.
"Unlike Gresham Barrett -- who is far and away the most absent member of Congress -- Nikki takes her job as a legislator seriously," Pearson said.
A Washington Post analysis shows that Barrett, who represents the 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, was absent for 573 votes in 2010, or about 43 percent of all votes taken. That's the most votes missed of any current congressman and 10 times more than the average of 4.1 percent.
Erin Ingraham, Barrett's communications director, doesn't dispute that analysis but said Barrett was always there on issues important to South Carolina, including President Barack Obama's health care plan and the stimulus package. She said most of the votes were missed because of campaigning.
She also said Haley, who represents Lexington in the state House of Representatives, missed votes and meetings while campaigning.
"Rep. Haley's rhetoric routinely fails to match her actions. She rails against the establishment, but (Tuesday) proudly accepted the endorsement of career politician Henry McMaster. She says she's missed only a day or two in the S.C. legislature to campaign, but in reality, she's missed 80 percent of roll-call votes in May," Ingraham said. "South Carolinians deserve a governor who will be up front about their record."
Both candidates said they've run positive campaigns and haven't stooped to personal attacks. But with a week until the runoff, negative comments from candidates don't surprise Robert Oldendick, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina.
"You're going to try and pull out all the stops," said Oldendick, an expert on the governor's race. "The candidate that perceives (himself) to be behind tend to go negative and cast doubts in their opponents' supporters minds."
Barrett finished 25 points behind Haley in the Republican gubernatorial primary and admits the path to winning the nomination is a "big hill" to climb.
But that doesn't mean he's not trying.
Since the primary, some Republican pundits criticized Barrett for not dropping out of the race and conceding the nomination to Haley. During his stop in Bluffton on Wednesday, he encouraged supporters to remind others to vote Tuesday. Runoff turnout is typically low, he said, meaning every vote counts even more.
"To quote (Clemson football coach) Dabo Swinney, the least important score is the score at halftime," Barrett said. "We've run a good, hard, positive campaign and will continue to do so. Voters deserve a choice of a conservative candidate with a plan."
Oldendick said he understands Barrett's choice not to concede.
"Taking it from Barrett's perspective, he's gotten this far into the campaign, and it's really hard to let that go," Oldendick said. "Given the smoke surrounding Nikki Haley concerning the rumors of infidelity, there's always a possibility there's a bombshell coming."
Barrett crisscrossed South Carolina on Wednesday, visiting Aiken and Columbia before ending the evening in Oconee County.
Haley was at work in the Statehouse debating Gov. Mark Sanford's 107 budget vetoes, Pearson said.