South Carolina’s gubernatorial election is about 18 months away, but both sides have opened fire over allegedly racist comments and associations from each other’s supporters.

This week, Gov. Nikki Haley came under attack from the National Jewish Democratic Council because one of her campaign leaders has ties to a hate group.

Roan Garcia-Quintana, a tea party activist from Greenville, is one of 164 members who volunteered to serve on Haley’s steering committee.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s blog recently noted that Garcia-Quintana is a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, and National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Aaron Keyak said the council has links to anti-Semitism.

“It is unacceptable for any politician to accept support from someone affiliated with an SPLC-designated white nationalist hate group, let alone select one as a co-chair of her re-election campaign’s grassroots steering committee,” Keyak said in a statement calling on her to drop his support.

Democrat Sen. Vince Sheheen of Camden already has said he will run again for governor. Haley has not formally declared for re-election, but she already has begun assembling a campaign team, including a steering committee with members from all of the state’s 46 counties.

Asked about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s criticism, Haley campaign manager Tim Pearson said while the Internal Revenue Service thinks conservatives should be targeted for abuse, Haley does not.

“There is nothing racial about this Cuban-American’s participation in the political process, nor his support for the first Indian-American governor and the first African-American U.S. senator in South Carolina history,” he said.

Garcia-Quintana, who has called himself a “Confederate Cuban,” said Friday he doesn’t pay attention to what the Southern Poverty Law Center says.

“If I were a racist, I don’t think I would be supporting somebody like Nikki Haley who appointed a black man (Tim Scott) to the U.S. Senate,” he said.

This isn’t the first racially charged ruckus in the early stages of the 2014 campaign.

Outgoing S.C. Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian said this month that Sheheen will send Haley back “to wherever the hell she came from.”

Many felt Harpootlian’s remarks were racially tinged, because Haley is a daughter of Indian immigrants.

Harpootlian later told MSNBC that he had apologized. “All I’m suggesting is she needs to go back to being an accountant in a dress store rather than being this fraud of a governor we have,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers from Columbia, Sen. Joel Lourie and Todd Rutherford, called on Haley to remove and condemn Garcia-Quintana.

“In 1999, CCC distributed mock advertisements encouraging people to visit our state because, ‘South Carolina Now Has Whiter Beaches,’ ” their Friday letter to Haley said. “The CCC’s newsletter, Citizens Informer, has also been used to advocate against ‘race-mixing,’ the superiority of the white race, and the dangers of immigration to America.”

Pearson noted that Sheheen’s advisers include Phil Bailey, a man who last year tweeted that Haley was “the Sikh Jesus” because “she can resurrect an unlawful campaign from the dead by simply appearing at a @SCGOP hearing.”

“Frankly, as long as Vince Sheheen continues to employ as one of his top political advisers Phil Bailey, a man who racially slurred Governor Haley, Vince and his allies have nothing to complain about,” Pearson said.

S.C. Democratic Party spokeswoman Kristin Sloan called Pearson’s comment absurd and noted that Bailey apologized for his comment’s poor taste. Bailey works for the S.C. Democratic Caucus.

State Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison said Bailey “apologized for a comment that was clearly in poor taste. Mr. Quintana has been unapologetic about his opposition to ‘mixing races’ and spent his career leading organizations that defended Jim Crow laws and have been identified as white nationalist groups.”

Garcia-Quintana said the Southern Poverty Law Center also considers the League of the South a hate group, “yet they’re nothing but a bunch of historians.”

The center noted that the Council of Conservative Citizens is the linear descendant of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation and “evolved into a crudely racist organization.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.