Politics & Government

Election reshapes South Carolina delegation

WASHINGTON — The elections that produced a national Republican rout turned the South Carolina congressional delegation on its head, stripping power from Democrats Jim Clyburn and John Spratt while empowering Republican Sen. Jim DeMint and sending four GOP freshmen to Washington.

With Republicans regaining control of the House, Clyburn lost his leadership post as majority whip, while S.C. Sen. Mick Mulvaney sent House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt into retirement.

"There is no stronger message that voters can send than to vote out the 28-year incumbent (and) budget committee chairman," Mulvaney told McClatchy. "Times have changed at home, and they need to change in Washington."

Mulvaney, one of three GOP challengers nationwide to knock off Democratic House committee heads, denied that a Republican wave swept Spratt from office in the 5th Congressional District.

"If Mr. Spratt had not voted every pillar of the Obama agenda, he would not have lost," said Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican. "However, folks recognized that their congressman had changed, and that it was time to change congressmen."

Spratt, a York Democrat, left Mulvaney a phone message conceding defeat. He made no public comment.

In the Upstate, Spartanburg prosecutor Trey Gowdy breezed to victory after his June Republican primary defeat of Rep. Bob Inglis made him one of four GOP upstarts across the country to defeat a Republican incumbent.

State Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston, elected to replace the retiring Rep. Henry Brown in the 1st Congressional District, will come to Washington as the first black Republican elected to Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction.

Scott and Allen West of Florida will be the first African-American GOP members of Congress since J.C. Watts of Oklahoma retired in 2003.

Scott, though, said he has no interest in becoming a national political figure.

"The American people have spoken loud and clear," Scott said. "They have no interest in elected officials chasing their own fame. They are interested in people who will service them."

S.C. Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Laurens Republican, sailed to victory in the 3rd Congressional District as the successor to Rep. Gresham Barrett, who gave up his seat for a failed gubernatorial bid.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to be part of true constitutional change in Washington," Duncan said.

Calling South Carolina's incoming first-time congressmen "the four horsemen," Duncan said he, Mulvaney and Scott had exchanged congratulatory e-mails, text messages and phone calls.

"Three of the four of us have served together in Columbia" in the General Assembly, Duncan said. "We know each other's convictions and abilities. We don't know Trey Gowdy as well, but we're encouraged by what we see in him. South Carolina is going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Rep. Joe Wilson, a Lexington Republican, defeated Democrat Rob Miller of Beaufort, a former Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq, for the second straight House election.

Wilson overcame a House reprimand and scorn from Democratic activists across the country as he prevailed in one of the nation's most expensive races.

But if the state gained new Republican blood in Washington, it lost significant Democratic juice.

Republicans' gain of at least 60 House seats rebuked Clyburn's pre-election claim that they would failed to gain the minimum 39 needed to overtake the Democrats.

"It is clear the voters want us to address the issues that are critical to moving our country forward," Clyburn said. "First and foremost, we must get our economy back on track and creating good jobs so that every American who wants to work can go to work."

Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, was overwhelmingly elected to his 10th House term over Republican Jim Pratt.

DeMint, re-elected to a second term in a romp over Democratic eccentric Alan Greene, said the election results validated his repudiation of President Barack Obama — but also delivered a stern message to Republicans who will now share power.

The Wall Street Journal published DeMint's letter Wednesday to the half-dozen conservative Republican rookies who won election to the Senate thanks in part to his financial and political support.

"Many of the people who will be welcoming the new class of Senate conservatives to Washington never wanted you here in the first place," DeMint wrote. "The establishment is much more likely to try to buy off your votes than to buy into your limited-government philosophy."

DeMint, touted by political analysts as a rising national conservative force, was the only incumbent senator not in a leadership position who was interviewed by all the major TV networks Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, introduced DeMint to his viewers as "the Paul Revere of the tea party movement."

In his latest challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, DeMint disagreed with the Kentuckian's claim that Republicans' top priority in the next two years should be to prevent Obama's re-election.

"I don't think he should be our focus at all," DeMint said of Obama. "I think his policies were rebuked yesterday, and this government-centric rampage of spending was rejected by the American people."

DeMint said Republicans will now be able to show Americans that they represent more than "the party of no" by passing substantive legislation in the House and holding meaningful debates in the Senate.

"The most exciting thing that came out of the election is the realization by the American people that the power here in America really is in their hands if they want to stand up and take it," he said.

"That's what's going to maybe realign politics in this country (and) force a national debate on the role of federal government at a time when we're almost $14 trillion in debt," he said. "This does give Republicans a second chance."

At a White House news conference, a chastened Obama said he would consider a moratorium on spending earmarks.

DeMint helped put earmarks on the national political agenda in December 2006 when he blocked a large appropriations bill until congressional leaders removed tens of millions of dollars in funding for local projects.