Politics & Government

State senator to challenge Spratt

A Republican state senator said Monday he is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt in 2010 - a race national Republicans consider "one to watch."

Freshman state Sen. Mick Mulvaney's announcement comes two months after voters in Spratt's home county - increasingly conservative York County - booed and jeered South Carolina's longest-serving congressman at a meeting on health care.

"I decided to run while sitting in the back of that meeting," Mulvaney said of the Sept. 3 event in Rock Hill, where more than 600 people filled an auditorium and hundreds more gathered around loudspeakers outside.

A spokesman for Spratt did not immediately return messages left at his office and on his cell phone.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Spratt is among the few high-profile Democrats that the GOP considers vulnerable. Most on that list are in their first or second term, said Andy Sere, regional spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"This is definitely one to watch," he said.

While his group is committed to helping Mulvaney, national GOP support currently is limited to helping set up the campaign. Funding decisions will come later, he said.

National GOP leaders last worked to oust Spratt in 2006, when his post as an assistant to then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California made him a target. They helped recruit freshman state Rep. Ralph Norman of Rock Hill to the race, and those who visited South Carolina to raise money for him included Vice President Dick Cheney.

But Spratt, who turned 67 on Sunday, trounced his most well-financed challenger to date with 57 percent of the vote, winning even York County.

Mulvaney and Sere say the political climate and Spratt have changed since the 2006 elections gave Democrats control of the House.

"The national environment is obviously different now. There's a push back to what's happening in Washington," Mulvaney said.

Spratt has long positioned himself as a moderate Democrat. He frequently touts his role in writing the balanced budget act of 1997 and was a vocal critic of President Bush's spending. In the 2008 race, he listed putting the budget back in balance among his top objectives.

This year, he's credited President Obama for responding to fiscal problems that Bush left. And he lauded a pay-as-you-go fiscal spending policy that passed the House in July.

Mulvaney, 42, says it's time for Spratt to go. He said his campaign will focus on Spratt's support this year of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, the so-called cap-and-trade energy bill and overhauling health care. Mulvaney also said Spratt is no longer a moderate and has had to toe the party line more closely since becoming budget chairman.

"I don't have to run against something he did I didn't like in 1998. These are votes he made last month, that he'll make this week," Mulvaney said.

Spratt, first elected in 1982, is seeking his 15th term. Mulvaney won a special election to the state Senate last year after a single term in the S.C. House. The Charlotte native moved to Indian Land - near the state line in Lancaster County - in December 2002.

The businessman and father of 9-year-old triplets recognizes some voters will criticize his short time in politics. He's hoping more see it as a positive that he's not "part of the system." He is not giving up his state Senate seat to run.

The 5th District stretches more than 130 miles across 14 counties in South Carolina.

York County has grown exponentially - accounting for 30 percent of the district's registered voters - and leans heavily Republican.

But the district also includes some of the state's most rural counties and highest unemployment. In September, four counties in the district fell among South Carolina's 10 worst in unemployment, with jobless rates in two of them topping 20 percent.