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In 5th Congressional District rematch, opponent presses Spratt on economy

One issue looms above all others in the race for U.S. House: What should be done to repair the nation's troubled economy?

Removing President Bush from the White House would be a pretty good start, says 13-term incumbent Democrat John Spratt of York.

But if voters hand the keys to Democratic nominee Barack Obama -- and give Democrats greater control of Congress, as many polls predict -- Spratt acknowledges there will be pressure to produce.

"Obama is going to have a trial by fire when he first gets elected," said Spratt, whose comments underscored his confidence in a Democratic victory Nov. 4.

"Fortunately, what's happening in the economy is happening now, not on his watch. It'll be a problem he inherited, and I think people will give him some leeway to work out solutions. But he won't have forever."

Republican Albert Spencer says Democrats already squandered their chances. As he campaigns across the sprawling 5th Congressional District, Spencer asks why Spratt didn't call for more decisive action.

"Where were our experienced bankers?" asked Spencer, a physical education teacher from Gaffney. "John Spratt is one. Anybody that was in the banking industry, or in Congress in general, might have known there was trouble on the horizon."

In a debate last week, Spratt responded that he's "just a country banker from Fort Mill, South Carolina" and went on to blame President Bush for going too far in deregulating the financial services industry.

Now, the two candidates disagree on the proper response. Spratt voted for the $700 billion financial rescue bill because, in his view, the cost of doing nothing would be "catastrophic."

Spencer thinks Congress acted with too much haste. "There's a possibility I would've voted for it, but it would've been down the road after all the information was on the table," he said.

Rematch of 2004 contest

Four years ago in his first run, Spencer garnered 37 percent of the vote in what many considered a surprisingly strong showing. Spencer benefited from the presence of President Bush at the top of the ticket; Bush carried South Carolina by 17 points.

This year, the two hopefuls are joined by Constitutional Party candidate Frank Waggoner of Sumter, who calls for drastic reductions in the size and scope of the federal government.

Waggoner supports abolishing income taxes, ending federal funding for education and eliminating all federal welfare programs.

"Most of our national government's spending is unconstitutional; in that it is not specifically a delegated power of our national government according to Article One of the constitution," he wrote on a recent candidate survey.

Waggoner could not be reached for further comment Friday.

THE CANDIDATES

Rep. John Spratt, Democrat

• Age: 65; born Nov. 1, 1942

• Education: York High School, bachelor's degree from Davidson College, master's degree from Oxford University, law degree from Yale Law School

• Career: Lawyer

• Family: Wife, Jane; daughters, Susan, Sarah and Catherine

• Political experience: Elected to U.S. House beginning in 1982

Albert Spencer, Republican

• Age: 64; born Dec. 31, 1943

• Education: Two doctoral degrees from Florida State University; master's degree from Clarion University; bachelor's degree from Slippery Rock State College

• Career: Physical education teacher at Limestone College in Gaffney

• Family: Wife, Sue; two children, Flannery, Russell

• Political experience: None

Frank Waggoner, Constitutional Party

• Age: 48; born Feb. 16, 1960

• Education: Degree in business administration, The Citadel, 1982

• Career: Supervisor in transportation division, S.C. Department of Education

• Family: Wife, Gabrielle; four children, Emily, Caroline, Joseph, Seth

• Political experience: None

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