There's little Carl Gullick hasn't seen or heard during nearly 20 years in the local political trenches. But his current race for re-election to the state House is just two weeks old, and Gullick already labels it the most negative campaign ever waged in York County.
It's coming from members of his own party. Gullick, a Lake Wylie Republican, is furious over what he considers unfair attacks leveled this week by a pair of out-of-town conservative interest groups.
Phone calls went out across northern York County on two nights telling voters that Gullick routinely supports tax increases, tried to give legislators a pay raise and doesn't vote as a conservative, among other things.
"Something's got to be done, because this is ugly," said Joe St. John, a party activist supporting Gullick's campaign. "This is trash politics."
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One set of calls came from South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG), a Columbia-based group targeting moderate Republicans across the state through direct mail, advertising and phone calls.
SCRG sent automated messages, or "robo calls," to several thousand voters to bring attention to Gullick's past support for tax increases, SCRG President Randy Page told The Herald on Friday.
"Rep. Gullick has a pretty pathetic record when it comes to taxes," Page said. "I'm not sure he's met a tax increase that he didn't like."
The source of the other call is unclear. It featured a live voice asking questions through what's known as a push poll, said Tega Cay Republican Karen Walto, who received both calls.
"It led you to believe he voted liberal," Walto said.
Boyd: No knowledge of calls
On Friday, Gullick urged his opponent in the District 48 Republican primary to call for an end to negative campaigning. But the opponent, Kyle Boyd of Fort Mill, says he doesn't know anything about it.
"A person came to me this morning and said, 'Hey man, I got a call,'" Boyd said. "That's basically where I'm at. I don't support any of that kind of thing at all. The first I knew about it was this morning."
Boyd, who lives in Regent Park and serves as headmaster of Walnut Grove Christian School in south Charlotte, has said he wants to be a "true conservative light" for northern York County and intends to stay focused on issues.
Asked whether he would call on outside groups to stop making calls, Boyd said: "I would love to talk to somebody and ask them to quit. But they're going to do what they're going to do. I have absolutely no control over what other groups do."
York County GOP Chairman Glenn McCall said he doesn't object to spotlighting a candidate's record, but distorting it is another matter.
"I'm really disappointed," said McCall. "We don't need these groups down here calling and doing all these push polls. The people, they're not going to go for that. We all are tired of this type of politics, these lobbyists and other groups coming in and defaming our candidates."
SCRG is aware of Boyd's candidacy, Page said, but the organization does not make endorsements. Elsewhere in the state, SCRG has targeted legislators who oppose school vouchers, which give tax breaks to families that send children to private schools.
Gullick is an outspoken critic of vouchers. Boyd supports them.
"Whether Carl's opponent knows anything or not, it's not helping his case because he's being linked to it," McCall said. "Ultimately, the intent is to help him."
Gullick acknowledged that he has voted for tax increases, including during his tenure on the York County Council. In the early 1990s, he said, York County had little choice as it confronted an 8,500-case backlog in the Solicitor's Office and a jail that wasn't finished.
"We inherited a county that was in a terrible mess," he said.
Gullick said he voted this week against a pension plan for legislators that some likened to a pay raise.
Can newcomers be swayed?
With 33,000 registered voters across Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie, District 48 is believed to be the biggest in South Carolina. The calls might influence some newcomers, says Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University. Democrats aren't fielding a candidate for the seat.
"Carl is going to be safe with the conservatives who have lived here a while," Huffmon said. "(But) these new folks who are moving in are very susceptible to these messages. If Carl is worried about anything, it's those folks."
Shortly after the filing period closed, Gullick, 55, said he prepared himself and his wife, Lynn, for a difficult period leading up to the June 10 primary.
"It's going to be real hard on me," he said recently. "It's going to be real hard on my wife. And I know that."
SCRG doesn't have specific plans to do more work in District 48. However, Page said Friday that his organization's plans could change.