In their final scheduled debate, U.S. Rep. John Spratt moved aggressively to portray state Sen. Mick Mulvaney as a libertarian with "extreme" anti-government views.
The Indian Land Republican returned fire Friday over an hour-long ETV debate, saying Spratt is no longer the independent-minded congressman people remember from the 1990s, but a top supporter of the Democratic agenda.
The recorded debate will air at 1 p.m. Sunday on ETV affiliates across the state.
Spratt took a sharper tone than in two previous debates, interrupting Mulvaney at various points to cite economic figures and take issue with his opponent's claims.
Never miss a local story.
At one point, Spratt referred to Gov. Mark Sanford as "your good friend" and pressed Mulvaney to explain past descriptions of himself as a libertarian.
Noting Mulvaney's vote in 2007 against expanding a statewide children's health insurance program, Spratt called it "the reason I have trouble taking you seriously."
Afterward, Mulvaney told reporters there's a reason Spratt is taking a harder line.
"That's 'cause he's losing," Mulvaney said. "It's the reason you saw the ads change. He was running a positive message. He started losing."
Not true, responded Spratt, saying he was just tired of listening to Mulvaney's distortions.
"I just decided I can't sit here and take these things," he said. "I can't wait until the next question (in the debate) to correct the record."
Views on stimulus
The candidates sparred over the Recovery Act, with Mulvaney arguing more money should have been spent on roads and bridges.
Many projects took more than a year to start construction, and President Barack Obama acknowledged this week that "shovel-ready" did not mean what he thought.
"We were all told this $800 billion would be a repeat of what my grandparents saw during the Great Depression," Mulvaney said. "It simply hasn't happened."
An estimated 14,000 road construction projects are under way, Spratt said, and 1.5 million to 3 million jobs have been saved or created through the stimulus legislation, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Spratt criticized Mulvaney for proposing in April to eliminate funding for ETV, calling it "a pretty radical motion" that would have cut distance-learning programs used by school districts.
Mulvaney said he was trying to protect state troopers, teachers and children's disability programs from massive budget cuts.
"I have to do what ya'll don't have to do," he said. "I have to prioritize."
Mulvaney seeks to unseat Spratt, who was first elected to represent the 5th Congressional District in 1982.
The candidates chatted amicably before the session, trading names of towns they've visited and marveling at the size of the district, which spans all or parts of 14 counties.
Once the cameras came on, Mulvaney found himself on the defensive about whether he fits the profile of a libertarian. It was not a term he accepted.
"Labels are there for folks who don't want to get down into the issues," he said.