[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/24/art.nikki.haley.youtube.jpg caption ="South Carolina Gov. hopeful Nikki Haley denied Monday that she had an affair with a political blogger."]
(CNN) - South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, surging in the race ahead of the June 8 Republican primary, is forcefully denying a claim that she once had an extramarital affair with a prominent South Carolina political blogger.
Will Folks, the editor of what many consider the state's most influential political news Web site, wrote Monday that he had an "an inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley, who is married with two children, several years ago. The story was quickly picked up by other political news outlets.
"I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage," Haley said in a statement issued by her campaign. "This claim against me is categorically and totally false."
Haley called the accusation "sad" and "disgraceful" and questioned the timing of the charge, which comes just days after some polls indicated Haley vaulting to the front of the four-way Republican primary race.
"These attacks – and those sure to follow – are an effort at distraction, but I will keep my focus on what matters, and that is delivering South Carolina's government back to our people," she said. "That's a fight I have fought for the last five years. That's why I entered this race for Governor. And that's what I will continue to do, despite any outrageous and false claims that are thrown at me."
Haley canceled an interview with a local television station in Columbia after the accusation was posted online.
Folks is a former spokesman for Republican Gov. Mark Sanford who left the governor's office in 2005. Days later, he was charged with an incident of domestic violence for which he plead guilty but avoided jail time. Folks then launched FITSNews.com, a Web site dedicated to promoting conservative reform efforts in the state that quickly became a go-to clearinghouse for Palmetto State political news and gossip.
Folks - a supporter of Haley's - said he decided to write about the relationship after it became clear that rival campaigns were leaking information about it to the media.
"This network of operatives has made it abundantly clear that in the process of 'taking down' Rep. Haley, they will also stop at nothing to humiliate me, destroy my family and take a sizable chunk out of the credibility this website has managed to amass for itself," he wrote. "Such is the blood sport of S.C. politics, I suppose – particularly in the wake of the scandal that consumed my former boss, Gov. Mark Sanford."
Haley was urged to run for the state's top office last year by allies of Sanford, who saw the state legislator as an ideological heir to the fiscally conservative governor. Folks has written favorably about Haley's bid for governor, calling her the best candidate to "advance the ideals I believe in." (He has also complimented Haley in other ways; in 2008, he described her as "hot as hell.")
But Folks has also refused to shy away from attacking many of the state's entrenched political figures – a crusade that has earned him more than a few enemies in the famously tribal world of South Carolina politics.
Haley became the target of attacks from her rivals in the GOP primary over the last two weeks after a series of television ads and an endorsement from Sarah Palin gave her a well-timed burst of momentum in the closing stages of the campaign. Haley's GOP opponents are Attorney General Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Rep. Gresham Barrett.
Though little-known at the outset of her campaign, Haley became a popular figure within the conservative movement and among Tea Party activists who saw her as a fresh face and a vehicle for small government ideals.
Her campaign has also been boosted by endorsements from Palin, who held a rally with Haley earlier this month, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 GOP presidential candidate who is considering another run for the White House.
Haley was an ally of Sanford's in the state legislature, and though the governor steered clear of endorsing her after he revealed an extramarital affair last summer, Haley does have the backing of First Lady Jenny Sanford.
After Haley issued her denial Monday, an associate of Folks told CNN: "He has nothing to add to his comments regarding this matter and will not be conducting any further interviews on the subject."
Story updated at 1:17 p.m. ET