Opening a new phase of his re-election campaign, U.S. Rep. John Spratt has begun calling attention to his Republican challenger's voting record - part of what aides described as an effort to spotlight "radical" positions taken by state Sen. Mick Mulvaney.
Spratt told a Fort Mill audience this week that Mulvaney voted against funding for children's health insurance, early childhood education and new school buses while in the Legislature, and also proposed eliminating state money for S.C. educational television.
"He basically is against the government," Spratt told 80 supporters at a fundraiser at McHale's pub on Gold Hill Road. The York Democrat labeled his opponent "a candidate of the tea party."
Mulvaney fired back, accusing Spratt of trying to take the focus off his own unpopular votes.
"While I have listened to my constituents, John Spratt has listened to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama," Mulvaney said of the Democratic U.S. House speaker and president. "Where I made tough choices to stay on budget, Mr. Spratt has grown the national debt.
"No matter how harsh Mr. Spratt's attacks on me become, he will not be able to hide his record."
Spratt has fielded criticism over his support of health care reform, the stimulus package and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), derided as a bank bailout bill.
Demonstrators staged a rally this week outside the 14-term Congressman's Rock Hill office to protest government spending.
The tea party factor
Linking Mulvaney to the tea party movement could pay off for Spratt among Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans, said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University.
"Spratt hopes the connection will make those voters too uncomfortable to vote for Mulvaney," Huffmon said.
According to the General Assembly's archives, Mulvaney voted against expanding a state-funded early childhood education program for ages 4 to kindergarten. The measure, voted down March 13, 2007, carried an $80 million cost.
The same day, Mulvaney also opposed a measure to expand access to a children's health insurance program known as CHIP. The amendment, voted down, would have cost about $27 million.
In June 2007, Mulvaney opposed a measure to require school buses to be replaced at least once every 15 years. Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill, citing a $26.9 million annual price tag. Mulvaney voted to sustain Sanford's veto.
The final item in question came in April during state Senate budget talks. Mulvaney proposed eliminating state money for ETV, an educational television system, for one year and spending the money - about $9.5 million - on the Highway Patrol, teachers and school programs for children with disabilities. The effort failed, Senate archives show.
Mulvaney said he cast the votes to protect tax cuts and control government spending.
Voters need to know more about Mulvaney and where he stands on specific issues, Spratt campaign officials said.
"It's the tip of the iceberg of the kinds of radical votes Mr. Mulvaney has cast and the positions he has supported," said Wayne Wingate, head of communications for the Spratt campaign. "Part of the strategy is going to be to educate voters as to who Mr. Mulvaney is."
Spratt told listeners in Fort Mill he has faced tougher opponents since taking office in 1983, but Mulvaney enjoys a political climate hostile toward incumbents and the current state of affairs in Washington.
"My opponent has something going for him the others didn't," Spratt said. "It's hard to defeat wholesale politics with retail politics. That's what we're up against this time around."
Aid for schools, states
That climate was on display Monday in downtown Rock Hill, where about 60 people stood in the afternoon heat for a tea party-style rally outside Spratt's district office.
Carrying signs with slogans such as "We are sick of the bailouts" and "Can you hear us now?", demonstrators denounced a proposed $26 billion state and local aid package as a case of runaway government spending.
A day later, Spratt voted in favor of the measure, saying it will prevent teacher layoffs this fall and help states pay for Medicaid programs. The bill passed 247-161.
Several people at the rally said they are unfamiliar with Mulvaney's voting record in the Legislature - but aware of his opposition to the Obama agenda.
"I want to retire John Spratt more than anything in my entire life," said Cheryle Patterson, a rental property owner in Rock Hill. "He is part of the group that's ruining the country.
"I really don't know a lot about Mulvaney, but it wouldn't really matter. I'm not necessarily voting for anyone. I'm voting against the political class."
Another demonstrator said it's unfair to label Mulvaney as anti-government simply because he voted against certain bills.
"That's political spin," said Tammy Withers, 51, of York. "If I have to cut back what I spend at Bi-Lo, that doesn't mean I'm anti-Bi-Lo. It means that's what I have to do for self-preservation."
The Spratt campaign shouldn't sit by and let opponents dictate the terms of the race, said Richards McCrae, chairman of the York County Democratic Party.
"Every day, Mick knocks John Spratt for any number of votes he has cast in Congress," McCrae said. "But few people realize what kind of a right-wing extremist Mulvaney is.
"Any campaign that's worth a (darn) is going to play some offense and not just defense all the time."
When an incumbent goes after a challenger, it's often the sign of a tightening race, said Chris Cooper, a former Rock Hill resident who teaches political science at Western Carolina University.
"Generally speaking, incumbents who feel safe stay defensive - making the case for their accomplishments," Cooper said. "Spratt going on the offensive could be a sign that he's feeling some heat."
Incumbent U.S. Rep John Spratt, a Democrat from York, and state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, a Republican from Indian Land, will debate for the first time at 8 p.m. Sept. 7 in Lake Wylie at a meeting of the River Hills Lions Club.
Matt Garfield 803-329-4063