September 17th, 2010
09:13 AM ET
4 years ago

CNN 100: Deficit outrage puts senior Dem in crosshairs

 The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.
The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.

Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:

South Carolina 5th – Rep. John Spratt (D) is seeking a 15th term
Primary: June 8, 2010
Location: North-central South Carolina
Days until Election Day: 46

(CNN) – Taking over South Carolina Democrat John Spratt's seat is part of the calculus for Republicans to win back the House, but the symbolism of knocking off one of the most senior House Democrats makes this race a marquee matchup this November.

Spratt's position as House Budget Committee chairman - something he campaigned on in past elections - could turn out to be a major political liability at a time when public frustration with record deficits and federal spending is at an all time high.

South Carolina's mostly rural 5th district, which runs along the northern edge of the border with North Carolina, leans Republican. Polls taken earlier this summer show the race tied. The district voted for John McCain by seven points in 2008.

"Spratt is the poster child as to why Democrats are vulnerable this year," said Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee told CNN.

Spratt acknowledged this year's environment is tough, but he told CNN this week that competitive elections are nothing new for him, saying, "Republicans have been gunning for me since I was elected." But the 67-year-old Democrat also quickly said he was "bullish" on his chances of returning for a 15th term next year.

Democratic colleagues stress that Spratt has mounted an aggressive effort and note he's a veteran campaigner who survived the GOP wave in 1994. He's trying to beat back the anti-incumbent mood by touting the jobs he's brought to the district and his long record of constituent service. Spratt boasted that he spent the August break visiting all 14 counties in his district.

In a telephone interview Thursday with CNN, Spratt's GOP challenger, state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged that the incumbent did earn a reputation for his personal approach to helping the people at home but says the senior Democrat's focus changed in recent years.

"I think that was great back when he wasn't doing anything controversial," he said.

Mulvaney argued that Spratt's votes for top Democratic priorities like health care reform and cap and trade show he's out of touch with the people in his district, which he describes as "very conservative."

"It's almost like he's gone into hiding in terms of his voting record," Mulvaney said.

The Republican's playbook, like many other challengers across the country, has been to link Spratt to national leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, who he says are highly unpopular in reliably red South Carolina.

Mulvaney also maintains that as the top Democrat on the budget committee, Spratt bears some responsibility for the flow of red ink from a federal budget that's out of balance.

"Absolutely, people hold him responsible for the government not introducing a budget for the first time in history," he said. He also points out that Spratt's budget committee was the final panel that approved the health care bill in the House, which has not been popular with voters. An ad sponsored by the American Future Fund, an outside group supporting the Republican, mentions Spratt's committee post and shows pictures of him with Pelosi.

But Spratt may be breaking with the president and Pelosi on one key issue Congress is wrestling with now - what to do about tax cuts that are expiring at the end of the year. Obama and congressional leaders want just to renew those tax breaks for those making $250,000 and under. Spratt said he could support a one- or two-year extension for all of them, including those tax cuts for the wealthy.

The senior Democrat's strategy in South Carolina has been to emphasize his record at leveraging federal resources and protecting the district's military installations. His latest campaign commercial shows a map of the area and tallies the number of specific road and business projects he secured.

Democrats are also contrasting Spratt's deep roots in the district with Mulvaney's. They point out that Mulvaney's business career started in North Carolina, and his political tenure in South Carolina is relatively new. Mulvaney dismissed this was an issue in the campaign and said his time in the state has given him a voting record he's been running on.

Both national parties are investing in the race, but television time can be expensive since the district stretches across four media markets in the state. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already reserved air time for in television advertising for this fall. They are also lending organizational support to help boost turnout at the polls. The NRCC has named Mulvaney one of it's "young guns" and is also planning to spend several hundred thousand dollar on the airwaves.

Spratt also holds a roughly 3-to-1 advantage in fundraising. While Mulvaney admits there's a cash disparity, he's confident that as long as he's able to have enough money to pay for television advertising in the final stretch of the race to get his message out, money won't be the deciding factor.

Follow Deirdre Walsh on Twitter: @deirdrewalshcnn


Filed under: CNN 100 • issues
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. jim

    Obama likes to spend money and that is a fact. Under his administration the national debt is 13.3 trillion.The poverty rate hit 14%in 2009.He has failed to seal our nation's borders and is working to grant amnesty to millions of illegals.Rep John Spratt is part of the problem and needs to go .Please vote in Nov. to "throw the bums out"

    September 17, 2010 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  2. Cindie Worley

    Get those career politicians who go along with anything to get by easy out of there NOW!!

    September 17, 2010 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  3. Clwyd

    Gee! Let's see bush's tax cuts created $7 trillion in short fall that was not made up for and thus a deficit of that amount. Let's see the two illegal wars have cost us close to $3 trillion so far. Math. $10 trillion of the $14 trillion debt directly related to the Repuliican's and bush! Now all the talk about about is deficit spending ! Fools! The party of no are all hypocrites!

    September 17, 2010 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  4. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    I do not care who is going to step up to the plate and begin to bring our government back to representing the people.
    As long as those who have failed in the past do not get re-elected again, the performance of those who have been in congress over the last forty years is a disgrace and not one incumbent should be re-elected it doesn't matter if they are liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, there has been too much representation of the party first followed by the representation of the too big to fail business and their armies of lobbyists.
    This fall in Nov. 2010 send a message to Washington and Fire those who brought this country down in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 and now the first half of 2010.
    Tell Congress "You ARE Fired!"

    September 17, 2010 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  5. Ron in Califonia

    The public sould be outraged at Washington and the Political class. We need to remove as many dinosaur's as possible and bring in citizen representatives instead of career politicians.

    September 17, 2010 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  6. anthony

    I know most people do not realize this, but the deficit was already over 1 trillion before Obama took office. The 2009 budget, the last budget that Bush submitted to Congress (because the 2009 fiscal year started on October 1, 2008, when he was still in office) he projected that the government would have a deficit of 400 billion in 2009. But the tax revenues fell because of the recession, and the federal government ended up taking in 600 billion less than he had predicted, so the government would have had a trillion dollar deficit even if Obama had done nothing. Although the stimulus bill was passed in 2009, only 188 billion of the money was spent in 2009, so it contributed only a small portion (about 15 percent) of the overall 1.4 trillion deficit. In 2010, even with the passage of the health care bill, the CBO is projecting that the 2010 deficit will actually go down to 1.34 trillion. This is because most of the spending on the health care bill will not start until 2014, so the bill has little effect on the 2010 deficit.

    September 17, 2010 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  7. Ship Him

    Spratt in his position, seems to be part of this ridiculous spending spree obama and his cronies went on, which will plague us for decades to come. Spratt needs to be called to task for his part . Out with the old and in with the new.He needs to go, as does pelosi and reid before they can screw up anything else.

    September 17, 2010 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  8. rs

    The outrage should be aimed at Republicans who want to increase the deficit by a couple of $trillion to give the rich even more tax breaks. Hello? Anybody listening?

    September 17, 2010 10:50 am at 10:50 am |