Catherine Templeton ad

A screenshot of an ad from Iowa-based conservative group American Future Fund backing Catherine Templeton for governor.

COLUMBIA — The TV ad wars in the South Carolina governor's campaign have begun.

A politically active Iowa nonprofit that once paid for anti-Donald Trump ads will air $250,000 in TV spots statewide for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Templeton, The Post & Courier has learned.

The ads, the first in the 2018 race formally backing a candidate, start Tuesday.

The 30-second spot calls the Mount Pleasant attorney and former two-time state agency head a "buzz saw" reformer. The ad includes a shot of Gov. Henry McMaster, a state Republican stalwart, and says Templeton is "not another good ol' boy." Templeton has nearly matched McMaster in fundraising during her first run for office.  

The dark-money group buying the Templeton ads, American Future Fund, has supported some GOP candidates (spending big on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid), and fought others (airing anti-Ted Cruz ads during the 2016 presidential primary in South Carolina). 

The fund also helped Republicans Thom Tillis win a Senate seat in North Carolina and Scott Walker keep the Wisconsin governor's office by supporting Libertarian candidates to siphon off some Democratic voters.

Notably in 2016, the fund aired spots nationwide during the presidential primary featuring victims who said they received little in return for enrolling in Trump University, a real estate school founded by the future president.

The group — once bankrolled by the Republican financiers, the Koch Brothers — spent nearly $7 million in anti-Trump ads, The Center for Responsive Politics says.

Templeton — like others in the Republican governor's race — is a Trump supporter. She has tweeted about the president more than 10 times, including Monday: "Join me today as we make sure SC keeps President Trump's promise."

Asked how the American Future Fund can support Templeton after taking its swipe at Trump, spokesman Dan Conston said "Catherine Templeton is a model candidate for governor" who fits the group's endorsement of conservative reform candidates.

The group backed Trump once he became the Republican nominee, Conston said.

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The American Future Fund is helping Templeton because she is building a national reputation.

"She has been impressing conservatives and donors all over the country," Conston said.

The Templeton campaign declined to comment Monday.

The decade-old American Future Fund has invested in a South Carolina campaign before — spending more than $200,000 to defeat Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt in 2010, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Republican Mick Mulvaney, now the White House budget chief, won the race. 

Third party groups participating in South Carolina elections is not unusual. They have been involved on the periphery of the 2018 governor's race already. An Ohio nonprofit, Government Integrity Fund, bought ads for McMaster ahead of the Super Bowl asking fans to stand during the national anthem.

Because of his history in office as a former attorney general and lieutenant governor, McMaster is considered the GOP frontrunner in the June 12 primary. Templeton is vying with fellow Republicans Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and Greenville businessman John Warren to become chief rival of McMaster, who was promoted to governor in 2017 when Nikki Haley became United Nations ambassador.

Former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, a former Democrat, is considered a long shot in the GOP field.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.