GREENVILLE - The independent candidate in the race for governor said Friday that he would welcome a lawsuit from the state Republican party about a dispute over a recent campaign advertisement.

Tom Ervin, a former judge and S.C. House member, opted to drop out of the June Republican primary and wage an independent candidacy against Gov. Nikki Haley. He said at a press conference that he was served with a "cease and desist" letter from the state GOP because of a recent campaign ad where the words "independent Republican" flash under his name.

The state party leadership says he cannot refer to himself as a Republican under campaign rules. Ervin and other lawyers disagree, saying that it's a First Amendment issue.

"I do hope they file a frivolous lawsuit," Ervin told reporters at his law office on Friday. "It's a petty political ploy."

A lawyer for the state GOP, Doug Smith, wrote in a letter to Ervin on Thursday that his use of the word is misleading and illegal under campaign rules. "Tom, my days in your court, while many years ago, tell me that you are not about misleading the public, however this does," Smith wrote. "(P)lease cease and desist from the use of the word 'Republican' in your campaign advertising."

The GOP cites a 1961 New York state case that they say established the rule.

Ervin said he has long been a Republican. He handed reporters a photocopy of his state Republican Party membership card which he received for paying his dues and copies of voting records that show he voted in the Republican primary.

"Tom Ervin is fooling no one - he was a Democrat and now he's saying he's an independent," said S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore on Friday. "My duty is to stand up for the Republican Party and truly conservative candidates like Gov. Nikki Haley."

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.