S.C. attorney Tom Ervin to oppose Gov. Nikki Haley in GOP primary

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has a primary challenger.

Former S.C. Rep. Tom Ervin, a Greenville attorney and radio station owner who was once a Democrat, filed Saturday to run for the Republican nomination against the first-term governor from Lexington, S.C.

“This is out of nowhere,” S.C. GOP political consultant Chip Felkel said.

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen does not have a primary opponent after filing ended at noon Sunday. Libertarian Steve French has filed for governor, and the newly formed American Party is expected to field a candidate.

Ervin was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1979, two years after graduating from the University of South Carolina law school, according to his biography on a law firm website. He served for four years in the General Assembly.

After leaving the legislature, he spent two years as a commissioner on the S.C. Workers’ Compensation Commission and 14 years as a circuit court judge.

His biography says he is the youngest circuit court judge ever elected by the General Assembly.

Ervin unsuccessfully challenged Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal in a re-election bid in 1996 – the first time a sitting justice had opposition in a century.

He was a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party, according to published reports. Ervin ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in the 2005 special election to succeed House Speaker David Wilkins, who has been named the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.

Ervin practices law with his wife, Kathryn Williams, in Greenville.

He concentrates on Social Security disability benefits cases. Ervin bought three stations in Anderson last year.

Efforts to reach Ervin on Saturday were unsuccessful.

Felkel said Ervin is a long shot against the well-financed Haley, who has raised more than $5 million for her re-election bid.

“He’s a great guy, but it’s an odd choice to do this,” Felkel said. “He’ll have to self-finance to have any chance, but there’s a lot to overcome. There’s no natural constituency for him.”

Political observers have said a tea party-style candidate could score some points against Haley for not making enough budget cuts or giving away incentives to lure businesses.

“Tom is not that guy,” Felkel said.

Haley’s campaign did not address Ervin’s candidacy when asked for comment Saturday.

“The governor is looking forward to the campaign as a whole because it’s a chance to celebrate all the good that’s happening in South Carolina,” campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said.