COLUMBIA — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Templeton pretended to fire a pistol at a rattlesnake in a not-so-veiled dig at Gov. Henry McMaster in a television ad that debuted last week.
Now a political action committee with ties to a group backing McMaster is shooting back.
A new TV ad from The Palmetto PAC features a clip of President Donald Trump saying his famous catchphrase "You're fired" as a narrator goes over how Templeton was fired from three state jobs, including after five weeks at the States Port Authority.
"That’s less time than a bad contestant on 'The Apprentice,'" the narrator says in the reference to Trump's reality TV show. "And, now Catherine Templeton wants to be governor? Sorry Catherine."
Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney, has denied she was fired in 2015 as director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and a consultant at the S.C. Department of Revenue.
Sources with direct knowledge said then-Gov. Nikki Haley ordered her ouster from the state's public health agency. Haley, now the United Nations ambassador, and a former DHEC board chairman said Templeton resigned.
Tim Pearson, a former Haley chief of staff and political strategist now leading the McMaster campaign, tweeted in January that Templeton did not willingly leave her $12,500-a-month technology security consultant job with the state’s tax agency. The agency director at the time said Templeton left because her work was completed a little more than two months into a nine-month contract.
Templeton and the Ports Authority director have different versions of her firing from that agency in 2015. Templeton says she was fired because she raised questions about consulting contracts. The ports chief says she lied and was fired because she was not a good fit for the job.
"They know their claims are false and have been directly and repeatedly contradicted by the facts," Templeton campaign manager R.J. May said in reaction to the new ad. "But just like a typical career politician, McMaster will say or do anything to hold power."
The TV spot is the second in a week criticizing Templeton, who has surprised many by keeping pace in campaign fundraising with McMaster in her first run for office.
McMaster launched an attack ad calling out her vote from a Democrat in 2010 and the backing she received from a group that produced anti-Trump commercials.
Third-party groups have played a large role in the 2018 campaign for governor.
The American Future Fund has spent $1.5 million in TV ads supporting Templeton.
Politically active nonprofit Citizens for a Working America has aired pro-McMaster ads.
The Palmetto PAC's records are held by Ohio attorney David Langdon, who also has ties to Citizens for a Working America, according to federal election records. The Washington-based PAC has raised $151,000 from contributors in South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, according to election records. The committee's spending includes a payment to the same firm, Henrico, that is helping McMaster with fundraising.
Trump's appearance in the ad is not a surprise since the president remains a popular figure in South Carolina. He has endorsed McMaster but that has not stopped Templeton supporters from using the president to back the challenger. An American Future Fund mentions that Trump considered Templeton for labor secretary.
McMaster and Templeton face Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill and Greenville businessman John Warren in the June 12 GOP primary.