About 150 people were in attendance Monday when Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the White Homestead in support of former aide Fran Person, a Democrat from Tega Cay who is running for Congress.
The event, a $250 a person luncheon, was closed to the press.
The White Homestead near downtown Fort Mill is where former President Bill Clinton stayed more than two decades ago. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Crandall Bowles of the Springs family were college classmates and Bowles’ husband, Erskine Bowles, was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.
Earlier in the campaign, Hillary Clinton raised more than $400,000 for her campaign at a fundraiser at the Bowles’ Charlotte home.
Person – “Frannie,” as Biden affectionately referred to him – is challenging incumbent Republican Mick Mulvaney for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District seat.
Biden spoke extensively about Person’s character, and the eight years Person spent at Biden’s side while meeting with world leaders. In sharing his hopes for Person’s political future, Biden said, “Ones that stay the course are the ones who intrinsically know what the right thing to do is... Frannie, he’ll tell you what he believes, stand by what he says, and listen to the other guy.”
Much of Biden’s talk revolved around fixing what he called a political system that in recent years has contributed to congressional gridlock as members of both major parties seem more reluctant than ever to cross the aisle. At one point, he directly addressed a former congressional colleague in the audience – former 5th District Rep. John Spratt, who lost his re-election bid to Mulvaney in 2010 after serving three decade in the House with the reputation of a moderate, even slightly right-leaning, Democrat.
“In Washington, we don’t talk to each other anymore John…you can't run a democracy unless you can reach consensus,” Biden said.
Biden shared that he has had many conversations with members of Congress who admit they don't vote their conscience, but rather how they feel they have to vote out of fear of alienating campaign donors
“What’s happening in Washington diminishes our ability to impact foreign affairs,” Biden said.
Biden referenced a recent trip to eastern Europe, where he wanted to assure Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia that “(Republican presidential candidate Donald) Trump doesn’t speak for us” after Trump recently commented that if elected, he might withdraw a U.S. commitment to defend those countries from Russian aggression.
Talking again about Person, Biden said, “This young man has the heart of a lion, and his moral compass has a true north – you can't afford not to elect him.”
Biden also took aim at Mulvaney saying, “Look at (Person’s) opponent. Look at the (federal) budget. Look at what he’s voting for,” accusing Mulvaney of being against “critical minimum increases needed for the defense budget.” Commenting on Mulvaney and his fellow Republicans’ on-going battles with Democrats, including President Obama, on funding the government through the next fiscal year and carving out money to fight the spread of the Zika virus, Biden quipped, “He makes Trump look like a genius.”
After the event, attendee Dr. Martha Edwards, a pediatrician with Rock Hill Pediatrics, said of Biden, “What struck me most when I met him was how very much he seemed sincerely interested in every person he met, in what they had to say or what they did. He seemed to care and to want to help, to be energized by each conversation. I know he’s done this for a long time and has met so many people. To convey that kind of concern is truly a gift.”
In addition to Spratt, several political figures turned out to support Person, including S.C. Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Dixon, a pastor challenging incumbent Republican Tim Scott.
“It’s time for a change… time to give people like (Vermont) Senator (Bernie) Sanders the support he needs,” Dixon said.
Person, who spoke before Biden, cited what he sees as a “broken Congress” and said he wants to get elected to help bridge the political divide and get the House to work on finding solutions to the country’s problems.
“It’s about getting things done again,” he said.
Person, a native of Pennsylvania who played football for the University of South Carolina, where he later worked as an assistant to USC president Harris Pastides and Athletics Director Ray Tanner, was visibly emotional when he spoke of Biden’s influence on him.
“He taught me how to be a better husband,” Person said of Biden.
“He taught me how to be a better father. He taught me what a real civil servant does. It’s about the people. It’s about getting things done.”
Person also emphasized his strong commitment to South Carolina, citing his college career at USC, playing football under coach Lou Holz and later his marriage to his wife Krystal, a native of Columbia.
About his opponent, a tea party favorite and a member of the far right Freedom Caucus, Person said, “Mulvaney represents an ideology… he keeps things from happening.”
Mulvaney easily won re-election twice after unseating Spratt, including a 2014 challenge from former Fort Mill Town Councilman Tom Adams.
Biden landed at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport Monday morning and briefly met with volunteers at a campaign office for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Charlotte. After the Fort Mill fundraiser, Person and Biden made another campaign stop in Rock Hill.
Sarah Heins is a Fort Mill resident and frequent contributor to the Fort Mill Times who attended Monday’s campaign fundraiser as a private citizen.
The Herald and State newspapers contributed.