Bullets have begun flying in the upcoming St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s race.

The race pits four-term incumbent Jack Strain against his former deputy and current Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith and former naval officer Jennifer Werther.

This week, Strain and Smith came out swinging over an interview two former Strain deputies gave to the media Wednesday in which they alleged they were bullied by a high-ranking Strain aide, who accused them of not being politically loyal to the sheriff.

One former deputy now works for Smith as an unpaid reserve officer; the other said his employment with the Slidell Police Department was “in process.”

In an interview, Strain was asked if he thought Smith had orchestrated the deputies’ claims.

“Randy isn’t smart enough to engineer this,” Strain said.

He put the blame on two Slidell activists who, he said, were looking to prolong their “15 minutes of fame.” Though the charges may not have come from the Smith camp, they reeked of election-year politics, he said.

On Thursday morning, Smith fired back, sending out a news release saying Strain makes “poor choices” and calling him “paranoid.”

“When it comes to people being ‘smart,’ the sheriff is mistaken if he thinks the people of St. Tammany Parish aren’t smart enough to see through his deflection,” Smith said. “Instead of taking responsibility for his own employees’ actions — or his own — he throws stones and makes the debate personal.”

There are more than five months remaining before voters go to the polls Oct. 24.