A contentious race for the Democratic nomination for a S.C. congressional seat includes questions about whether two of the candidates really are Democrats.
In a 2016 Facebook post, Annabelle Robertson, one of three candidates in the 2nd District's June 12 Democratic primary, said she was a “lifelong member of the GOP.”
In other posts around the same time, Robertson called former Republican President Ronald Reagan an "icon" and said Republican Donald Trump was "just as corrupt and just as much of a liar" as then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Robertson isn't the only candidate for the Democratic nomination whose party ID is being questioned. Another Democratic candidate, Phil Black, previously ran in the district's GOP primary in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
Robertson's posts have circulated online since she entered the race to challenge the 2nd District's longtime Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.
"I feel like she's a fake Democrat, and I'm the one person willing to call her out," said Arik Bjorn, the 2016 Democratic nominee in the 2nd District, who criticized Robertson for the comments in his own lengthy Facebook post.
Robertson, an attorney, said she grew up identifying as a Republican in a "conservative Southern home." Then, she said, some Democratic friends helped her escape a relationship gone bad.
"I realized the Democratic Party embraced the values that I hold dear," she said, adding, "I identified as a Republican, but I voted based on character, not party."
In the 2016 post, Robertson said, she cited her GOP party affiliation to a friend as a way to talk her out of voting for Trump, whom she compared to Huey Long and George Wallace in the same post. She said her flattering comments concerning Reagan were a reference to his support of a 1986 immigration amnesty bill.
Robertson said she did vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in South Carolina's Democratic primary.
"These are short clips of different conversations out of context," Robertson said.
But Robertson's Democratic primary opponent, Sean Carrigan, questions the speed with which the Aiken attorney made the switch to Democrat from Republican.
"To, all of the sudden, have a change of heart that she describes herself as a 'democratic socialist,' that's an uncommonly extreme change in such a short period of time," Carrigan said.
This isn't the first time party identification has become an issue in a 2nd District race.
In 2014, one-time Republican Black sought and won the Democratic nomination for the 2nd District seat despite running on a fairly conservative platform. After failing to unseat Wilson, he ran in the Democratic primary again — in 2016 — but lost to Bjorn.
In the 2016 race, the S.C. Democratic Party took the unusual step of endorsing Bjorn in an effort to derail Black's candidacy, something Bjorn thinks is unlikely to happen to Robertson. "The voters will have to make up their own minds," Bjorn said.
On the campaign trail, Robertson has tacked toward more progressive positions, trying to position herself to the left of Carrigan, an Army recruiter turned real estate agent.
While Robertson also has called him a "GOP-lite" candidate, Carrigan says he is not interested in ideological labels, preferring to run on his record of military service and serving others.
"I'm a Democrat and a leader, and people can look at my policies and decide what I am," Carrigan said. "Some have called me a 'John Deere Democrat.' I want to make sure every dollar we spend we get a return."
Bjorn, the Democrats' 2016 2nd District nominee, said there should be a higher barrier to run for in a party's primary. Candidates could be required to collect signatures to qualify or register as a party member — not possible now in South Carolina but suggested by some in the S.C. Republican Party.
The online posts and questions about who is a Democrat have led to an increasingly negative campaign ahead of the June 12 primary.
On Monday, for instance, Carrigan put out a statement calling for civility in the race, citing profanity directed at his wife at a recent town hall meeting.
"Family is supposed to be off-limits," Carrigan said. "It's a disgraceful lack of civility, and civility is something South Carolinians pride themselves on."
Carrigan said he hopes his supporters will "tell their truth, but do it in a civil manner."
Citing her own experiences on the campaign trail, Robertson said civility in the 2nd District is in short supply.
"As long as women candidates are attacked through social media, get anonymous hate mail, have their credentials and family attacked, and are called names, then women are not equal in politics and there is no civility," she said.