Moderate Tega Cay Republican Carl Gullick has found himself under suspicion seemingly since the day he took office at the state House of Representatives, not among Democrats as much as disgruntled conservatives in his own party.
With the November election fast approaching, a challenger has yet to emerge. The latest candidate du jour is first-term York County Councilman Paul Lindemann, who said this week he's leaning against a run against Gullick but hasn't ruled it out.
"He's moderate to liberal, is what I hear people on the street saying," said Lindemann, 28, who lives in Fort Mill's Baxter Village. "He doesn't line himself up too well with the Republican Party."
The District 48 seat took on a higher profile after Gullick's name showed up on a list of moderate legislators being targeted by conservative groups with ties to Gov. Mark Sanford.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The "hit list," as it is known in S.C. political circles, identifies 31 legislators considered for targeting in the 2008 primaries, including 27 Republicans and four Democrats, according to a story in the Free Times, a weekly paper in Columbia. Sanford denies knowing of any plan to target specific Republican lawmakers.
Gullick describes himself as a progressive conservative. He believes some right-wingers want him out of Columbia because he opposes school vouchers, which would allow tax credits for families who send their children to private schools. Supporters say competition will improve public education, particularly in low-performing states such as South Carolina.
"If you are a Republican and you voted against vouchers, you are on the list," Gullick said. "We knew we were going to be targeted the second we punched the button."
If he doesn't do it this year, Lindemann said he almost certainly will file when the seat comes open again in 2010. Two other prominent local Republicans, former 16th Circuit solicitor Tommy Pope and Fort Mill school board member Michael Johnson, also have been mentioned, but neither has signaled that a run is imminent.
For his part, Lindemann said he agrees with Gullick on vouchers. He added that he hasn't been recruited by any pro-voucher group.
"You've got to represent your district first," he said. "That is something that is just wrong for this part of the county."
Glenn McCall, chairman of the York County Republicans, said he doesn't expect a GOP challenger to enter the June primary. Two months ago, McCall set up a meeting between Gullick and top officers in the county party to air their issues and figure out how to improve communication.
"It went really well," McCall said. "(With) Carl, there are some that are not happy, but there are an awful lot that are. I think he understands that."
The political pressures on Gullick, 54, bear resemblance to those on the candidate he supports for president. As with Sen. John McCain, critics chastise Gullick as a maverick who doesn't adhere closely enough to the party's conservative principles.
Gullick, who chaired the York County Council during the 1990s, says he favors low taxes but also cares about the environment. He said groups such as South Carolinians for Responsible Government portray him in misleading terms.
Expecting a challenge, Gullick said he raised $28,000 in the fourth quarter of 2007.
"I wouldn't call them conservative groups; I'd call them fringe groups," he said. "If you don't march in lockstep, you'll be targeted. They don't care if they have to resort to a three-legged dog, they'll run them."
District 48, which included mainly Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie until a 2002 redistricting, now also covers a larger chunk of Rock Hill, pushing south to S.C. 161.