A group of Republican lawmakers and the state GOP are using a series of dirty tricks to try to damage their rivals in the South Carolina primary, a Reuters investigation has found.
The groups have used a combination of online advertisements, mailers, social media posts and other tactics to sway voters against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a businessman who faces Republican challenger Ralph Northam in the November 6 election.
The tactics are part of a broader strategy aimed at eroding support for Ossofs opponent and former state senator Phil Berger, who is challenging Democrat Karen Handel for a second term in the fall.
The efforts highlight the importance of the primary for Democrats, who control the House and the Senate, to win back a majority in the 115-seat chamber.
The latest efforts came as the campaigns of two candidates for governor – Democratic Representative Trey Gowdy and Republican Robert Marshall – sought to portray themselves as being on the side of the voters.
The campaigns, which had received some $5 million from outside groups in recent weeks, are airing ads that paint Gowdy as a hypocrite who wants to help only wealthy people and not everyone.
Marshall, who represents parts of South Carolina’s coastal and southern suburbs, has been campaigning against Gowdy’s Democratic opponent in the state’s November 6 primary.
He has also launched mailers that attack Gowdy for supporting legislation that would have restricted access to abortion.
The two campaigns have been particularly effective at attacking Ossofses stances on immigration and education, according to an analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) by Reuters.
The campaign’s mailers also cite Gowdy, who voted against the GOP health care overhaul bill in the House of Representatives last year, as a champion of illegal immigration.
“This is a war for the soul of America,” the mailers say.
“Jon Ossopp is no different from his Democrat colleague, Trey Gowdys Republican predecessor.
They are both out to gut our nation and turn us into a country of criminals.”
Republicans have spent heavily on advertising in South Dakota, another state in the middle of the nation where they are hoping to flip control of the state Senate to Democrats.
One of the most aggressive ads in that state comes from a conservative group called Citizens United.
The group’s ads, titled “No More Demos,” say that Ossopps anti-immigration views are based on an “anti-immigration agenda” and are part and parcel of the Republican Party’s platform.
It also alleges that Osofses support for “amnesty” and “a $1 trillion tax hike” are based in part on the GOP’s economic policies, which include tax breaks for the wealthy and deregulation.
“Our message to Jon Osofs is simple.
No more Demos, no more amnesty, no MOREs $1trillion tax hike.
It’s all about the rich and their money,” said the ad, which has run in the Des Moines Register, Fox News, and other publications.
In other states, Republican candidates have run ads with similar messages, including the one in South Georgia, which features a narrator saying that Oswebs “anti immigration” policies have “created a new class of people” and that he is “a hypocrite”.
“We’re not going to let Jon Oswebets lies get in the way of making the people of Georgia proud,” the narrator says in the ad.
The ad, aired on South Georgia radio station WGEM, is funded by the conservative Christian Coalition, a political action committee that supports conservative candidates.
A South Carolina Republican Party spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
The state Republican Party did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comments.
A campaign mailer also features a man holding a sign that says “Vote for a Better Deal.”
It is written in part by the South Carolinians for Action PAC, which supports GOP House Speaker Tim Moore and his primary opponent, State Sen. James Parrish.
The PAC has been involved in the campaign in the past, with the candidate’s wife, Jessica, speaking at the Southside Christian Church, which was the site of an anti-Trump rally in Southgate, a heavily Democratic part of the city.
The mailer is part of what the Republican Governors Association (RGA), the largest group of state GOP leaders, is calling “the next wave” of attacks in South Carolinia, which will likely be used in the primary.
The RGA, which is a lobbying arm of the GOP, has funded mailers in South Florida and elsewhere in Florida and in other states.
It has also made a splash in South Alabama, where Republican Senate candidate Todd Rutherford was forced to cancel a campaign stop after his wife posted an anti-“anti-immigrant” ad online.
A spokesman for Rutherford, whose campaign is focused on the state budget, said he will continue to support his opponent and that the ad will not appear on the ballot.