Democrat Fran Person is hoping to change the course of recent S.C. history by winning the 5th District congressional seat for his underdog party.
The former aide to Vice President Joe Biden, a Tega Cay resident, says he has a shot.
Person is running a more competitive campaign than Republican U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s previous Democratic challengers and raising enough money to run ads on television, getting his name and message out to voters.
Some district voters have noticed.
Mulvaney supporter Rod Benfield of Rock Hill said he has seen Person campaigning and appearing at festivals.
Person faces tough odds.
Mulvaney has won big in the district, starting in 2010, when he ousted longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt by 10 points. Spratt, at the time, was House budget chairman.
Mulvaney won re-election in 2012, beating Democrat Joyce Knott by 11 points. He won again in 2014, defeating Democrat Tom Adams by 18 points.
Incumbent Mulvaney runs strong in York County, where a third of the district’s ballots are cast.
Through September, the congressman also has raised about $1.1 million for his re-election bid, including $511,643 from individuals. The rest came from political committees.
Mulvaney is running television ads through election day and says he has put 17,000 miles on his car since January, campaigning and fundraising in the district.
But Person does present a new challenge for Mulvaney.
Knott and Adams failed to raise $100,000 combined for their campaigns. Person is a different story.
He has raised $587,672 through September – including $540,272 from individual donors – giving him enough cash to launch a television ad, a critical step in increasing his name recognition and sharing his message across an expansive district.
Biden also has campaigned for Person in the district.
$1.1 million Mulvaney’s fundraising haul through September, including $511,643 from individual donors. The rest came from political committees
$587,672 Person’s fundraising haul through September, including $540,272 from individual donors
While private polls show Mulvaney with sizable leads, a S.C. GOP poll showed 18 percent of voters still undecided. Person said that shows there is potential for him to grow support.
Person “has been running a very aggressive campaign and really beating on the doors in the counties in the 5th District,” said Rick Whisonant, a York Technical College political scientist. “It’s actually amazing that it’s been competitive.”
Person, a newcomer to running for elected office, has his work cut out for him in a district that has grown increasingly Republican, Whisonant added.
“Is it competitive to the point where there’s going to be an upset? No. But certainly, (Person) has been a credible candidate.”
Is it competitive to the point where there’s going to be an upset? No. But certainly, (Person) has been a credible candidate. – Rick Whisonant, York Technical College
Person: Defense an issue
Person has been hitting Mulvaney on defense spending – an important issue in a pro-military state.
Sumter, home of Shaw Air Force Base, is one place in the district where Person says he is finding support.
“Mulvaney has a record, since he’s gotten to Congress, of voting to freeze or cut defense spending,” Person said. “The one truly sacred obligation we have is to equip those we send overseas in harm’s way and then to take care of them when they come home.”
‘Mulvaney has a record, since he’s gotten to Congress, of voting to freeze or cut defense spending.’ – Democrat Fran Person
Mulvaney notes he voted against a budget bill that allowed for across-the-board budget cuts in 2011 that led to reductions in military spending.
The cuts, known as the sequester, were the result of a “bargain struck between (then Republican U.S. House Speaker) John Boehner and President Obama” to increase the debt ceiling, Mulvaney told The State newspaper in an email, adding, “I thought that was a terrible bargain which is why I voted against the sequester.”
Since the cuts took effect, however, Mulvaney has encouraged Republicans to freeze or reduce defense spending. He argues Republicans pushing budget cuts must put their sacred programs on the table to maintain credibility and persuade Democrats to consider cuts to programs they cherish.
With some Sumter voters, Person’s message is resonating.
Burke Watson, who owns a real estate business, says Mulvaney has shown little support for Shaw Air Force Base or Sumter since being elected.
Having voted for Mulvaney over Spratt in 2010, Watson says he now is backing Person, who he says will work with all parties to protect the base.
Citing similar concerns, Gardner Gore, also of Sumter, says he also is supporting Person.
In 2010, Gore led a sign campaign to “Sack Spratt” in support of Mulvaney. Now, those signs say “Sack Mulvaney,” said Gore, adding he is disappointed Mulvaney voted against a spending bill that included federal aid for S.C. farmers hit by last year’s flood.
In August on Facebook, Mulvaney said he would have voted for a compromise to provide aid to farmers without raising the deficit had it come up for a vote as a stand-alone bill. But Mulvaney said he “saw no real choice” when the proposal was included in an omnibus spending bill, which he called a “monstrosity,” and voted against it.
Obamacare still top concern
However, Rock Hill’s Benfield predicts another issue will weigh move heavily on the minds of 5th District voters on Nov. 8.
Mulvaney beat Spratt – a York attorney who was liked and respected by Republicans and Democrats – because Spratt helped craft President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
Similarly, the race between Mulvaney and Person will be a referendum on Obama’s policies, predicted Mulvaney supporter Benfield, a Charlotte banking executive.
Asked to size up his opponent, Mulvaney tied Person to Obama and questioned his credentials.
“The only full-time job he has ever had is in the Obama administration, and he has been in Washington longer than I have,” Mulvaney said of Person. “I am not sure how that prepares him to represent South Carolina in Congress.”
‘The only full-time job he has ever had is in the Obama administration, and he has been in Washington longer than I have.’ – U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney
Despite Person’s efforts, political scientist Whisonant said York County looks “solid” for Mulvaney, which means the 5th District should be safe for the congressman, too.
“I don’t see anything that’s going to upset him,” Whisonant continued. “There’s just not enough disgruntled Republicans to make that change (to vote for Person), and they would still have a difficult time voting for a Democrat.”
Mulvaney has held hundreds of town-hall meetings, Facebook Q&A sessions and met with civic groups — from Rotary clubs and tea party groups to the NAACP.
Two years ago, Mulvaney held a town hall on immigration in Gaffney, taking questions for an hour speaking entirely in Spanish.
York’s Jim Vinyard, a Vietnam combat veteran who has attended several of Mulvaney’s town halls, said he trusts the Republican incumbent to tell the truth and appreciates the way he takes time to explain complex issues facing Congress to audiences in the district.
“He’s conservative. I believe he tells the truth. I think he explains it in such manner that you can understand it,” said Vinyard.
“He openly says, ‘You don’t have to agree with me, but this is where I’m coming from.’ ”
Running for Congress
A look at the major-party candidates running to represent South Carolina in Congress:
1st District: Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford (i) vs. Democrat Dimitri Cherny
2nd District: Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (i) vs. Democrat Arik Bjorn
3rd District: Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (i) vs. Democrat Hosea Cleveland
4th District: Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (i) vs. Democrat Chris Fedalei
6th District: Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (i) vs. Republican Laura Sterling
7th District: Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rice (i) vs. Democrat Mal Hyman
Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (i) vs. Democrat Thomas Dixon