In the span of an hour along a single block of downtown York, U.S. Rep. John Spratt encountered his 7th grade English teacher, an elementary school classmate and a group of volunteers who have supported him since his earliest campaigns in the 1980s.
A walk through Saturday's Fall Fest marked a homecoming for Spratt - and a much-needed lift at the end of a difficult campaign season.
As he made his way along North Congress Street, past the funnel cake trailer, the barbecue and chicken tents and arts-and-crafts tables, Spratt received greetings befitting his status as a local icon.
But something felt different. Friends and well-wishers seemed to recognize that Tuesday's election against Republican challenger Mick Mulvaney could mean the end of a career for their hometown Congressman.
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It would be a tough day, said Ann Wilson, a friend and classmate from the York High School Class of 1960.
"I hope. I don't know," Wilson said when asked about Spratt's chances. "We're hoping for the best. He's been a wonderful Congressman. I think it'd be a terrible loss to our district" if he were defeated.
Farther down the street, Spratt shared a hug with third-grade classmate Mary Montgomery. He had a surprise visit with 83-year-old Ina Lever Frame, who taught him English at the McCelvey Center back when it served as a school.
"I taught his wife, too," Frame said. "They were excellent."
Spratt will carry the city of York, but the terrain will be rougher elsewhere in the 5th District, said York Mayor Eddie Lee.
The district has a long history of supporting incumbents, Lee noted. The last time an incumbent lost was 1932, when William F. Stevenson, a Democrat from Chesterfield, lost in a primary to James P. Richards of Lancaster County.
"We were mired in the Great Depression," Lee said. "Richards pointed out, 'You've been in Washington for too long.'... Does that not sound familiar?"
Whatever the polls say, Spratt said he's been buoyed by big, enthusiastic crowds the last several days.
"I readily acknowledge this race is neck-and-neck," he said. "I just don't find on the ground the same results as recent polls. I get a warm reception everywhere I go."
Final pitch to voters
Spratt designed his final TV ad as a message to voters unhappy with his recent votes.
Entitled "A Good Man," the spot offers testimonials from former state Rep. Sam Foster, Republican York County Council Chairman Buddy Motz and Mary Phillips Gettys, widow of former U.S. Rep. Tom Gettys.
"I don't always agree with everything John has done, but he's been a great benefit to South Carolina and its citizens," Motz says in the ad.
Earlier Saturday, Spratt delivered a pep talk at the Democratic Party headquarters in Rock Hill. Finish strong, he told a shift of 30 volunteers about to begin phone banks and neighborhood canvasses.
"This race is going to be won or lost in the last lap," he said. "And we're starting the last lap right here."
The grassroots effort has been unprecedented for a Spratt campaign, field director Courtney Hunter told the group.
"We're going to take all the work ya'll have been doing for four months and do it all again in four days," said Hunter, a Rock Hill native. "This is the biggest effort we've ever had in the Fifth District."
Spratt said he drew inspiration from a barbecue rally Wednesday night at the National Guard Armory in Rock Hill. The event drew a packed crowd of nearly 800 people, more than double the expected amount.
"I looked out in that audience and I saw all the people we've gotten to know," he said. "That's been the biggest booster in this entire campaign."
Unlike in previous contests, the mood will be unsettled when supporters gather Tuesday at the VFW Lodge on West Main Street for Spratt's customary election night party.
At some point, the function will turn into a celebration or a farewell. But no one will know until late in the night, including the candidate himself.
"The numbers have proven to be so unreliable and unstable," Spratt said Saturday, before heading off to York. "Nothing would surprise me Tuesday night. ... It'll be an interesting evening."