U.S. Rep. John Spratt, who survived the Republican surge of 1994 and seven GOP presidential waves, was swept from office Tuesday by Republican Mick Mulvaney in an anti-incumbent tide that ended a 28-year tenure and an era in S.C. politics.
Mulvaney had about 55 percent of the vote to Spratt's 45percent with almost 90percent of the votes counted in South Carolina's 5th District.
Spratt, 68, first elected in 1982, apparently was the highest-ranking House Democrat to fall. He chairs the House Budget Committee and is the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel.
Even as Mulvaney claimed victory, Spratt did not concede, though he did speak in the past tense: "I told you 28 years ago, the one thing I would commit to is to do my dead-level best, and by golly, I've done it."
Spratt cited problems with voting machines and said he would wait for "a definitive demonstration that the numbers are not in our favor."
Mulvaney, 43, spent most of his life in Charlotte and operates a restaurant business here. His triplets attend a parochial school in Ballantyne. In the race, he had the support of local tea parties as well as Sarah Palin.
He has pledged to fight the federal health care law, oppose new stimulus spending and pursue tax cuts for all Americans, including the highest earners. He won on a message of limited government and lower taxes, a mentality shared by a large group of conservative freshmen he'll join on Capitol Hill.
Spratt, asked recently about the possibility of defeat, dwelled on the subject for only a moment before saying he expected to win.
"There's life after Congress," he said. "I've got five grandchildren who are the glory of my life. I wouldn't feel cheated. If you can't take rejection, you shouldn't be in politics."
Spratt is not finished with his duties on Capitol Hill. He sits on a bipartisan panel appointed by President Barack Obama that will make sweeping recommendations next month on reducing the national debt.
Voters upset by the pace of the economic recovery took out their anger on Spratt, said Houston Ross, 61, of Rock Hill.
"A lot of the problems in Washington were not John Spratt's fault," said Ross. "Unemployment is high. There's a lot of frustration. I think it's unreasonable to think all of this would be straightened out in 18 months."
Mulvaney and his supporters made the election a referendum on Washington and the Democrats who lead it.
"It's pretty straightforward," Mulvaney said last month. "If you like the way the country is headed, keep your congressman."
No other race in the Carolinas saw as much outside spending, says the Center for Responsive Politics. Outside groups spent $3.7 million - nearly $2.2. million against Spratt.
(Staff writer Tommy Tomlinson contributed.)