A mysterious ad that accuses a candidate for governor in Alabama of supporting the theory of evolution and questioning the Bible has triggered a dizzying and nasty shouting match in the state's hotly contested Republican primary race.
The ad -- part of a campaign against Republican candidate Bradley Byrne by a group called the True Republican PAC -- questions Byrne's faith and accuses him of being a "liberal."
Referencing Byrne's time on the state school board, where he was first elected as a Democrat in the 1990s before switching parties, the ad's narrator says in a quizzical voice:
"On the school board, Byrne supported teaching evolution, said evolution best explains the origin of life -- even recently said the Bible is only partially true." Another voice closes the ad by saying Byrne is "trying to look conservative."
That and other ads triggered an all-hands-on-deck response from the Byrne campaign, which launched a "truth team" website, issued a series of statements denying the group's charges, accused a GOP opponent and Democratic operatives of being in cahoots against him, and launched an ad of its own. The campaign also released a lengthy statement calling the faith ad "despicable."
In the statement, Byrne said he believes "every single word" in the Bible is true and that, to the contrary, he fought to get creationism taught in Alabama's schools.
Byrne campaign spokeswoman Marty Sullivan said the ad's creators took local newspaper quotes out of context in leveling the claims about the candidate's faith. She said Byrne's longstanding position is that both creationism and evolution should be taught in schools.
"Bradley's faith is very important to him and this has been very painful to him to have this kind of attack launched on him," Sullivan told FoxNews.com. "There's nothing about it that's even remotely true."
The Byrne campaign has tried to turn the tables, saying that recently disclosed campaign finance transactions prove that a top Democratic official in Alabama -- state Democratic Party vice chairman and teachers union head Paul Hubbert -- is colluding with Republican candidate Tim James to fund the True Republican PAC.
According to a report in the Montgomery Advertiser, the teachers union PAC spread out $500,000 to various committees that in turn contributed to the True Republican PAC. The Advertiser reported that $250,000 from those committees was sent to the new PAC the day it was formed, and that more money passed through two other political committees operated by a James fundraiser on its way to the new PAC.
Hubbert could not be reached for comment by FoxNews.com. James' campaign, though, has vigorously denied the charge.
After the Byrne campaign launched an ad accusing James of conspiring with Democrats to fund the "phony PAC," James' campaign launched its own ad accusing Byrne of spreading "despicable, outright lies about Tim James" because his poll numbers are dropping. The campaign said the "fight" was only between Byrne and the Alabama Education Association, and that James had "nothing to do with it."
James said in a statement to FoxNews.com that he would "stand tall" against the teachers union if elected.
James, who is the son of former Alabama Gov. Fob James, gained national attention last month when he ran a separate ad declaring that he would allow the state's driver's license test to be conducted only in English if he's elected.
The race is tight. Byrne had been leading the crowded GOP primary field, but the Press-Register reported last week that it obtained an internal James campaign poll showing James jumping ahead of both Byrne and former Judge Roy Moore in the primary race.
A poll released Thursday by Public Strategy Associates, a local firm, showed Byrne leading James by 1 point -- 24 percent to 23 percent, with Moore at 18 percent. The poll of 1,005 Republican primary voters was conducted May 10-11.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Artur Davis is facing off against state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. But general election match-ups have shown the Republican candidates ahead in November.
Sullivan claimed that Democrats are trying to attack Byrne and take him out of the race because they oppose his policies the most.