On the day after the Indiana primary, U.S. Rep. John Spratt held a private sitdown meeting with a leading figure in the Democratic Party.
Spratt told his listener that he was close to making a final decision on whom to support in the Democratic presidential race. His home state had made its feelings clear, and Spratt felt he needed to follow the will of the people.
The listener was disappointed. But, Sen. Hillary Clinton seemed to understand.
"The vote in South Carolina had to be a serious factor in whatever decision I made. I explained that to her," Spratt told The Herald as he reflected on the May 7 conversation with Clinton. "She didn't twist my arm or anything. She was extremely gracious. In politics, she knows decisions like this have to be made. You don't win them all."
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Remembering Obama's visit to Rock Hill
As first reported at heraldonline.com, Spratt joined a flood of Democrats from around the nation Tuesday when he announced that he will vote to give his party's presidential nomination to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, had been one of the highest-profile superdelegates to remain uncommitted in the primary battle between Obama and Clinton.
The congressman said Obama's popularity in the 5th District played a major role in his choice. Obama won all 14 counties.
Spratt recalled the Saturday night last fall when Obama rolled into Northwestern High School for a rally inside the gym. Asked about Obama's troubles winning over working-class white voters, Spratt pointed to that night as evidence of Obama's potential.
"I'm not sure it's the problem it's been presented to be," he said. "That was a mixed group of people, and the whole place was electric with excitement. When I introduced him that night, I could barely get his name out before they about lifted the rafters on the place. There were a lot of white folks in that audience, and they were turned on by the guy, too."
Spratt believes Obama will be able to connect by talking about policy differences with the Republicans on issues such as the economy.
"Over time, I think he can (broaden his support)," Spratt said. "When people see the difference between us and them with respect to issues that matter to people, that will have a lot to do with rectifying that relationship."
In a different year, Spratt's praise for Obama could have been a political liability for him in a district that went for President Bush in 2000 and 2004. But this year, Spratt is heavily favored over Republican challenger Albert Spencer in the fall election.
Loyalty to the Clintons
Still, the choice put Spratt in a tricky spot because of his allegiances to the Clintons. During the 1990s, Spratt worked closely with Bill Clinton's administration on balancing the federal budget, long one of his top priorities in the House.
Local ties also added to the sensitivity. Spratt's longtime campaign secretary, Joyce Knott, helped coordinate Clinton's York County campaign as a paid staffer. Supporters and friends such as John Presto also backed Clinton.
Spratt carefully avoided taking sides, instead choosing to make nice with both campaigns.
"Obama did do well here, but I think John Spratt voted his conscience as far as the party is concerned," said longtime friend Red Ferguson. "He knew people on both sides, and he let them battle it out without bearing any pressure on people. It was time to bring the party together, and that's what he did."
As the primary battle wore on, Spratt's uncommitted status wasn't lost on Obama. The Illinois senator did a curtsy last month when he encountered Spratt while making his way through the Capitol, The New York Times reported.
"He put together a national organization for this nomination, and he trumped his senior, more experienced colleagues," Spratt said. "He has been able to run a campaign that was always a step ahead of theirs. It's an indication he'll bring good people around him, and he knows how to organize."
New role for Spratt?
For many years, the feeling in Washington was that Spratt would be a logical choice for director of the Office of Management and Budget in a Democratic White House.
The post would allow Spratt to close his career by serving as the chief architect of the federal budget. Spratt said he has met Obama a half-dozen times, and they recently chatted about budget matters.
"Certainly, I'd be willing to consider it," Spratt said of the director job. "But it hasn't been offered to me. I don't want to look presumptuous or something."
The important thing now, Spratt said, is for the party to get behind Obama.
"I've bided my time and stayed out of the process," he said. "We did the right thing staying out of it, but I also thought we need to take a stand. The primaries are now virtually all over. It's time to move on with the general election."