On visits to the 5th District, Mick Mulvaney often casts himself as a one-term congressman with scant political clout - but in that time, he's managed to propel his signature cause into a national spotlight.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked the Indian Land Republican to join his presidential campaign team for the work Mulvaney did co-authoring the Cut, Cap and Balance bill, Mulvaney said last week.
The bill's name rings familiar in the name of Perry's economic plan - "Cut, Balance and Grow" - which he rolled out in South Carolina last week.
Mulvaney's bill called for a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government have a balanced budget with significant spending cuts and caps. It emerged amid debates over whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling. It passed the Republican-controlled House and failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Perry's plan contains every aspect of the Cut, Cap and Balance bill, Mulvaney said.
Perry promises to demand a balanced budget amendment without raising taxes, cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product and balance the budget by 2020.
Perry's camp hasn't absorbed all the ideas Mulvaney brought to the table.
Perry's proposal includes an optional flax tax of 20 percent that eliminates taxes on Social Security benefits, dividends, and capital gains, while preserving deductions for mortgage interest, charity contributions, and state and local taxes. His plan also includes a standard deduction of $12,500 for taxpayers and dependents.
Mulvaney advocated for a two-tier tax plan with two rates for differing income levels. That plan resembles the one Mulvaney and other House Republicans plan to roll out this week in answer to President Barack Obama's jobs bill, Mulvaney said.
Not that he's against a flat tax, he said. It's just a bolder move.
Mulvaney cited "political interest in some progressivity in the tax code" as the reason he and other Republicans will push for two tiers.
"If you're running for president, it's completely defensible to stake out a position. I'm here in the House trying to get something passed," Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney endorsed the Texas governor in September at a debate hosted by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint in Columbia. A newcomer and overnight favorite in the race, Perry missed the debate, which would have been his first, backing out at the last minute because of wildfires in his home state.
When Perry joined the debates, his newcomer sheen dulled a bit, and he dropped in the polls.
Mulvaney acknowledged that the campaign and candidate have had less impressive moments.
"Clearly, he underperformed in a couple of debates. Nevada was back to being better," he said.
Nevertheless, Mulvaney still sees the GOP contest as a two-man race, regardless of surges in popularity for other candidates such as Atlanta businessman Herman Cain. Perry, he said, is the most conservative candidate and "serious."
If Cain or others do well in the polls, it's because "a lot of people are looking for someone who's not Mitt Romney," criticizing Romney's economic plan and stance on Massachusetts's health care system, Mulvaney said.
"Now that he's got a chance to start talking about policy matters on issues that Romney has not talked about," Perry has a good chance of clenching the nomination, Mulvaney said.
Voters on endorsement
Local tea party conservatives whose anti-incumbent fervor helped Mulvaney oust long-standing Democrat John Spratt have mixed feelings about Mulvaney endorsing Perry.
"I lived in Texas for eight years" during which time Perry was lieutenant governor, said Paul Anderko, a member of a local conservative political group.
Under Perry's leadership, Anderko said he didn't notice much from him good or bad other than "he was a good-looking guy."
Now that he's running for president, Anderko sees Perry on the affront.
"He'll attack Cain. He'll attack Romney. I don't like attack dogs," Anderko said.
Anderko also wonders why Mulvaney didn't choose Romney, who endorsed Mulvaney in his 2010 race for Congress.
But Anderko hasn't counted out Perry, unlike Paula Kinziger, who has.
Kinziger said she doesn't know who she will vote for at the Jan. 21 primary - maybe Cain - but Perry won't be her choice.
She's criticized Perry for signing an executive order requiring young girls be vaccinated against a common sexually transmitted disease. She also opposes Perry's support of in-state tuition for undocumented children in Texas.
Mulvaney said he opposed a similar HPV vaccine initiative in South Carolina and would have fought "with everything I had" against the in-state tuition benefit. But Texas isn't South Carolina, and Texan lawmakers widely supported the initiative, he said.
"I know for a fact that (Perry's) not proposing that at the national level," Mulvaney said.
'The only issue'
Perry has received his share of criticism as a high-profile candidate.
He's been criticized for saying the racially derogatory name of a hunting camp tied to his family had been removed from a rock on the property when several sources claim otherwise, and saying that it's "fun" to raise questions about Obama's citizenship.
On the birther comment, Mulvaney laughed, chalking it up to a "distraction" and not necessarily a setback for the campaign.
"Everybody engages in a little bit of hyperbole in this business," politicians and reporters too, he said.
In August, Perry received an enthusiastic welcome from hundreds at the Old Town Bistro on Main Street where he stopped to spread his "Get America working again" message.
After the stop, the national media railed Perry for comparing America's mid-century Civil Rights movement to businesses seeking relief from over-taxation and over-regulation.
He made the comment in response to a question about the restaurant's history as the site of the famous "Jail No Bail" lunch counter sit-ins.
On whether Mulvaney has any doubts about Perry's character and ability to lead, he said "absolutely not."
Take a look at any candidate, he said.
"If you're looking for something not to like, you'll find it. I try to stick to the issues."
Endorsing a candidate doesn't mean agreeing with him 100 percent of the time, he said.
For Mulvaney, there's only one issue worth discussing this election.
"To me jobs, the economy, and spending is not just the most important issue in this election, it's the only issue."
Unless the economy turns around, policies on gay marriage and other social issues "won't be an issue because the country won't be here."
In the 5th District, any heat Perry takes likely won't have a lasting negative impact on Mulvaney, said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University pollster and political science professor.
That's because Mulvaney accomplished something conservatives had been trying for decades: beat Spratt.
Mulvaney has also proven himself to be a "stunningly smart politician" who won't likely say anything that will come back to hurt him, Huffmon said.
Mulvaney's success with pushing a balanced budget amendment - and landing it in a presidential campaign - may be a "harbinger for bigger things to come" for the congressman, Huffmon said:
"The party has taken notice."
Jamie Self 803-329-4062