Indian American lawmaker Nikki Haley made history as South Carolina Republicans made her their first female gubernatorial nominee, handing her an easy victory in her primary runoff race against US representative Gresham Barrett.
The 38-year-old mother of two, who was raised Sikh, but became a Methodist at age 24, Tuesday scored what the New York Times called "a commanding victory that elevates her to become one of the leading faces of the national Republican Party and places her within one step of being elected this fall as the state's first female governor".
Strongly favoured to win the election against Democratic state senator Vincent Sheheen in November, Haley would become the second Indian American to hold the top job in a US state after Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.
Haley, who was forced into Tuesday's runoff as she fell short of the 50 percent-plus-one needed to take the nomination in the June 8 primary, led Barrett, a four-term congressman, 65 percent to 35 percent.
"This is a really great night because South Carolina just showed the rest of the country what we're made of," said Haley, delivering a victory speech to supporters in Columbia, South Carolina.
Overcoming unsubstantiated allegations by two other Republicans that they had affairs with her and a racial slur by another Republican lawmaker, she had just missed out on winning the nomination outright then, capturing 49 percent of the vote in a four-candidate field.
"The unproven allegations and attacks against Haley actually played right into her message as a new kind of conservative," said CNN political producer Peter Hamby.
"In fighting back, she was able to argue that establishment figures in the Republican party were playing politics as usual and trying to stop a real reformer from taking charge in Columbia."
Congratulating Haley, Sampat Shivangi, chairman of Republican Indian Committee, Mississippi, said: "It is very heartening and upbeat news for all Indian Americans that we can prevail against racist and negative campaigning in the Southern States.
Haley rose in the polls by promising to break an entrenched network that has dominated state politics for decades. She portrayed the unsubstantiated charges of sexual affairs as retaliation for taking on special interests.
Republican candidates in South Carolina hold a considerable advantage in the general election, and even Democratic leaders in the state concede that something unforeseen would have to unfold for Haley not to win in November, the Times said.
Haley and Sheheen are competing to succeed Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican, who confessed to having an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman last year and is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.