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Accusations of 'dirty tricks' fly in South Carolina

Drop-out rumors and finger pointing spread like wildfire in the Palmetto State over the weekend.
Jeb Bush at a rally in Rock Hill, S.C. on Feb. 18, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Jeb Bush at a rally in Rock Hill, S.C. on Feb. 18, 2016.

Rumors, lies, and accusations spread like wildfire in South Carolina over the weekend, with the campaign's of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio accusing others of floating false information that their candidates were dropping out and leaving the presidential race.

Rubio's campaign pointed fingers at Sen. Ted Cruz, whose team spread similar misleading rumors about Dr. Ben Carson during the Iowa caucuses. Rubio has criticized Cruz widely for these "dirty tricks," going as far as to warn voters to be suspicious of calls or news reports they heard during Saturday's primary. 

RELATED: Carson: Other campaigns sabotaged us with 'dirty tricks'

"In the past 24 hours, Senator Cruz and his allies have flooded South Carolina with false and outrageous lies. Having realized he has run out of positions to flip flop on, Senator Cruz has settled on a strategy to steal elections through rumors and lies," senior Rubio advisor Joe Pounder said in a statement that called on the Texas senator to condemn the rumors. MSNBC was unable to verify that any such calls went out and the Rubio campaign did not respond to requests for proof or voters who had received such calls.

“We don’t spread rumors,” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler replied, adding that they had not distributed information about the Rubio or Bush campaigns to their supporters as they had in Iowa about Carson (though he continued to deny that they'd spread rumors there too.) “Flat out false, made up.”

Jeb Bush’s communications director Tim Miller said on Twitter that reports of rumors about Rubio were "made up," and added that Rubio's campaign was spreading their own rumors about Bush and Gov. John Kasich. Later in the night, Bush did suspend his campaign, saying the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada had spoken.

The Bush campaign pointed MSNBC towards a Greenville pastor and retiree, Buddy Simmons, who said he received a call yesterday saying that Bush was leaving the race and encouraging him to vote for Ted Cruz.

“They told me you might as well forget Jeb Bush. He’s dropping out on Sunday regardless of what happens,” Simmons, 64, told MSNBC, adding that the caller identified himself as a supporter of Ted Cruz. “Said he’s completely out of money.”

Simmons said he voted for Bush anyway, but reached out to find out what was going on and said they told him they believed Rubio's campaign was behind the calls.

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, who campaigned for Bush, said she received three calls from constituents asking her if the former Florida governor was dropping out after hearing reports his campaign staff was job-hunting.

“They’re going to polls and nobody wants to vote for somebody that’s dropping out the campaign,” she said. “If people are getting that and they’re not calling me – everybody in the state’s not going to call me and find that out – that’s not good politics.”

Politico reported on Saturday that Bush staffers were looking for jobs, but the campaign has disputed the report and emphasized again and again that the former governor wasn’t leaving the race. 

Voters also say the political calls have run amok in the final hours.

“My phone rang so many times yesterday I couldn’t get anything hardly done,” Simmons said, estimating that he’d received 50 calls yesterday.

Shealy said she’d received as many as 17 phone calls in an hour yesterday and said many of her constituents had complained about them.

“Some of them have unplugged their phones,” she sadded.