Politics & Government

Elections will shake up S.C. delegation

WASHINGTON — When the dust settles late Tuesday, the congressional elections will likely have rocked the political landscape in Washington for South Carolina — for good and for bad.

Three of the state's six House members will be new, a major overhaul that will become historic if state Sen. Mick Mulvaney becomes the fourth delegation rookie by knocking off House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt.

Not since the post-Watergate elections of 1974 have South Carolina voters sent as many as three new members of Congress to Washington.

With a recent poll having shown him 10 points ahead of Spratt, Mulvaney is already counting on victory.

"As things stand now, five of the six South Carolina representatives in the House next year will be solid conservatives," Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican, told McClatchy on Friday. "We will stand together to protect the shared principles and values of this state. If the political insiders in Washington think we will put aside our principles for political gain, they have another thing coming."

Spratt, who will turn 68 on Monday, predicted that he'll surprise the pundits who have him marked for defeat.

"I am going full-bore, boosted by the reception I get everywhere I go," Spratt said. "In Rock Hill earlier this week, we put on a barbecue open for 200 — and were elated to have 800 show up. I feel more than ever that I'll come out on top."

Charlie Cook, an influential political analyst in Washington, listed the Spratt-Mulvaney race as a tossup. But Stuart Rothenberg, another analyst with a large following, moved the contest to leaning toward Mulvaney.

Rothenberg said Spratt's possible loss will be part of a likely Republican landslide of massive proportions.

"House Democrats face the potential of a political bloodbath the size of which we haven't seen since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt," Rothenberg said. "More than a few Democratic veterans of the political wars are now talking about their party suffering extraordinary losses of at least 60 seats."

In giving Republicans control of the House, such a sweep would strip House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of his powerful post to help shape and then move major legislation.

Clyburn, facing only token opposition in Republican Jim Pratt, is increasingly alone in insisting that the Democrats will retain the House majority, though with a narrower margin than its current 255-178 spread.

Clyburn said President Barack Obama's active campaign in recent weeks is helping Democratic candidates regain momentum.

"His core message is, 'Two years ago you voted to change the guard in Washington. Now you've got to go back to the polls to guard the changes that had been made.' It's resonating big time," he said.

Clyburn said Obama and the allied Democratic candidates are campaigning on a solid string of achievements.

"We saved the auto industry," Clyburn said. "We brought the economy back from the brink. We put controls on the financial sector that are now paying off. We put regulators back on Wall Street. We created a consumer protection agency. We reformed the way student loans are paid out by saving $40 billion that was being creamed off the top by financial institutions. These are very substantive changes."

They may not be enough to save Spratt, who is one of three House committee chairmen the Republicans have targeted.

The National Republican Campaign Committee has given Mulvaney $1 million, while outside groups funded mainly by large businesses have spent $1.1 million on anti-Spratt TV ads.

In a bid to save the seat of one of the few remaining white Southern Democrats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has provided $1.1 million to Spratt.

Combined with the $3.15 million the two candidates have raised, the Spratt-Mulvaney race is a $6.35 million contest — one of the costliest in South Carolina history.

Three other Republicans seeking their first congressional seats are headed toward likely victories, each running in a predominantly GOP district and in a wave election year heavily tilted toward their party:

  • Spartanburg prosecutor Trey Gowdy defeated incumbent Bob Inglis in the June 22 Republican primary and faces poorly funded Democrat Paul Corden in the 3rd Congressional District centered in the conservative Upstate.
  • S.C. Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston emerged from a crowded GOP primary field to replace the retiring Rep. Henry Brown in the coastal 1st Congressional District. Scott faces token Democratic opposition on his way to becoming South Carolina's first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction.
  • State Rep. Jeff Duncan of Laurens holds a large fundraising advantage over Democrat Jane Dyer in the heavily Republican 3rd Congressional District race to replace Rep. Gresham Barrett, who gave up the seat for a losing gubernatorial bid.
  • Duncan said he's come to know Scott and Mulvaney through their service in the General Assembly and looks forward to them joining Gowdy in Washington as freshmen GOP lawmakers.

    "I'm excited about the new South Carolina delegation," Duncan said. "All the guys are very conservative, and we're going to definitely have an impact on the agenda in a conservative direction, which is what Americans want. Washington will know where South Carolina is."

    Rob Miller of Beaufort could become the only freshman Democrat elected to the House on Tuesday, though his chances of defeating Rep. Joe Wilson have dimmed in the predominantly GOP 2nd Congressional District during an election year tilted toward Republicans.

    Miller, a former Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq, has raised $2.86 million, more than any other House challenger ever in South Carolina — only to see Wilson collect a remarkable $4.58 million.

    Fueled by nationwide response to Wilson's "You lie!" yell last year as Obama addressed Congress, the contest was the nation's most expensive for most of the time since the Lexington Republican's September 2009 outburst.

    With a combined total of $7.44 million, the Wilson-Miller now stands at No. 3 in the fundraising derby, behind closely contested House races involving Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota and Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in Florida.

    A poll commissioned by Miller two weeks ago showed him trailing Wilson by 7 percentage points, similar to Wilson's 54-46 percent margin of victory over Miller in 2008.

    A Spratt defeat combined with Clyburn's relinquishment of his majority leadership post in a Republican rout would diminish South Carolina's clout in Washington.

    Yet the state would gain power in other respects.

    Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican whose own re-election over oddball Democrat Alvin Greene is certain, will see his rapidly growing profile further expand with the possible election of a handful of ultraconservative new senators beholden to him for his endorsements and financial support.

    Scott will be a national figure from the day he arrives in Washington as the first black Republican member of Congress since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma retired in 2003.

    Before the votes have been cast, one thing is certain: More powerful in some ways and less powerful in others, the post-election South Carolina delegation will be markedly changed.