COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A candidate seeking to be South Carolina's next governor is condemning a fellow Democrat for a positive rating from a gun rights group. But in South Carolina, experts say a candidate can't win statewide without one.

Candidate Phil Noble on Tuesday accused state Rep. James Smith of being too pro-gun, saying, Smith "has voted over and over again with the NRA — getting A ratings — and now tries to fool people that he is on the right side of this issue."

"South Carolina has one of the most lax set of gun laws in the country because of legislators like Smith and our kids and families are in grave danger," Noble said. "Smith's NRA report card should disqualify him as a potential Democratic nominee."

But when questioned by The Associated Press about his voting record, Noble said that he supported 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen even though Sheheen had gotten an "A'' rating from the NRA two years earlier and also supported a guns-in-bars bill.

Sheheen, a state senator, was the Democrats' nominee in both 2010 and 2014, losing both general elections to Republican Nikki Haley. Asked by AP about Noble's support of Sheheen while criticizing his candidacy, Smith pointed out Noble's inconsistency.

"It's a wholly hypocritical comment," he said. "He's not concerned about South Carolina. ... The fact that that is wholly inconsistent, he could not care less about "

According to data collected by Project Vote Smart, Smith received a lifetime score of 100 percent from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund in 2008 and an A- for positions taken in 2010. The NRA rated Smith's positions at 79 percent in 2012, a number that dropped to 43 two years later.

But the positive ratings are good for candidates of any party who want to be successful statewide in South Carolina, according to Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston.

"Could it be something that could get him into a little bit of trouble in a primary? Maybe," Knotts said, of Smith's positive ratings. "But it would be hard to win statewide and be anti-gun. ... It makes Smith a more viable candidate."

"Obviously it's for his own personal political gain," Smith told AP on Tuesday, of Noble's assertion. "Phil's only concern is Phil."


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