Democratic governor candidate Phil Noble picks up endorsement from a Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (right), the oldest daughter of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, endorsed her friend Phil Noble on Monday, April 16, 2018, in the Democratic primary for S.C. governor. 

COLUMBIA — A  Democratic candidate for governor who has described himself as a political outsider picked up an endorsement Monday from a member of his party’s royal family.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest child of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, said she endorsed her friend, Charleston businessman Phil Noble, in the three-way Democratic primary largely because of his stance for stricter gun control.

“I believe that many gun owners and non-gun owners understand that we need to have background checks to make sure we know who we’re selling the guns to,” she said Monday in Columbia.

Kennedy Townsend’s father, Bobby, and her uncle, President John Kennedy, were both assassinated during the 1960s by gunmen.

“It can’t be enough to talk about what we should do in case there’s gun violence," she said. "I’d rather have my father and my uncle alive, so let's stop the problems in the first place.”

Noble said he’s prepared to convince the Republican-controlled S.C. Legislature of his calls for tighter background checks, an assault weapons ban and raising the minimum age for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21.

Similar measures have repeatedly failed to garner support among the state’s Republicans, including bills introduced this legislative session in the wake of February's mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“It will never happen unless somebody is standing up, ready to lead on it, ready to take the heat on it and ready to fight for it,” Noble said. 

He has criticized one of his opponents, state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, for Smith’s record with the gun lobby.

A 2016 scorecard shows a “C” rating for Smith from the National Rifle Association, which indicates a candidate with a "mixed record or positions on gun-related issues, who may oppose some pro-gun positions or support some restrictive legislation.”

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Noble defended his criticisms of Smith.

“I don’t care where he is today or next week, but I care where he has been,” Noble said. “And where he’s been is an endorsed candidate of the NRA.”

Smith received an “A” rating from the NRA in 2006, a “B+ rating” in 2008, an “A-” rating in 2010 and another “A-” rating in 2012.

The endorsement came on the 11th anniversary of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech that left 33 dead, including the gunman.

Also in the Democratic race is Florence lawyer Marguerite Willis.

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is a reporter based in Columbia, covering state and local government. He previously covered government and sports for newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania.