COLUMBIA — Greenville lawyer William Herlong kicked off his campaign for South Carolina attorney general Monday, accusing incumbent Alan Wilson of lacking the honesty and independence to aggressively confront corruption in state government.
"South Carolina is a spectacular state, we all know this," Herlong said in a news conference at the Statehouse. "But we also all know that the level of corruption inside the four walls of this building threatens us all, threatens our reputation, our pocketbooks, our way of life. The first antidote to corruption is to elect a new attorney general."
The announcement creates a three-way GOP primary race between Herlong, Wilson and state Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington, who announced his candidacy last month.
Herlong, 59, has been practicing law for more than three decades since graduating from Northwestern Law School, trying around 100 cases in court and assisting in many more. He served two terms on the Greenville County School Board.
Like Atwater, Herlong acutely focused his pitch on Wilson's connections to Richard Quinn, a longtime GOP consultant in South Carolina whose political empire came crashing down amid allegations of improperly using lawmakers to advance his clients' business interests in the Statehouse.
After tapping 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe to handle the investigation into Statehouse corruption, Wilson later sought to remove Pascoe at around the time the focus turned toward Quinn. Their public fight eventually prompting the S.C. Supreme Court to reinforce Pascoe's authority in the matter.
Herlong described politicians who abuse their public office for personal gain as "leeches" and said he relishes the prospect of rooting them out from office.
"The first priority will be corruption. The second priority will be corruption. The third priority will be corruption," Herlong said. "We are going to take names."
The Post and Courier first reported Herlong's interest in the job in October, when he said he would be willing to spend as much as $500,000 of his own money to make the race competitive.
Wilson, the son of Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, held more than $1 million in his campaign coffers as of the last campaign filing deadline in October.
Herlong said Wilson has "really aggravated a lot of people" and argued the incumbent's base of support is already dwindling.
"It might end up requiring a lot less than we think, but I'm prepared to put my money where my mouth is," Herlong said.
Alan Wilson's campaign spokesman derided Herlong as a "liberal trial attorney" and responded to his comments with a statement saying the attorney general "has a record of upholding the rule of law and protecting South Carolina families."
"It is offensive that Herlong would impugn the integrity of the men and women he says he wants to lead," continued consultant Mark Knoop. "The Attorney General's office is held to a higher standard than that."
No Democratic candidates have emerged yet .