THE BLOG
09/14/2010 12:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Splitting Tickets Breaks Both Ways For Spratt In S.C.'s 5th District

Sitting in a rocking chair under a slowly swirling ceiling fan in South Carolina's 5th District is Buddy Motz, a Republican who chaired the York County Council for 12 years. Motz will be vacating his seat in December, having just recently gotten the boot from an underfunded, tea party-backed political unknown who ran in the GOP primary to the hardcore right of him.

In Washington, D.C., John Spratt, the incumbent who represents Motz's district in Congress should take notice.

Spratt, the 67-year-old Democratic House Budget Chairman, is currently fighting the hardest political battle he's faced in his 27 years representing the sprawling 14-county district that stretches along the North Carolina border and into the rural heart of the state.

Challenging Spratt is Mick Mulvaney, a little-known state senator and Tea Party backed political newcomer.

A sharp-tongued, libertarian-leaning lawyer and land developer, Mulvaney won a South Carolina House seat in 2006 before jumping up to the state senate two years later. He's not well known throughout the rapidly changing district, but he's been able to tap into the anti-incumbency venom that's coursing throughout the national electorate during the 2010 Midterm elections.

"The anger in the country has drifted all the way down into local politics," Motz said, and he offers up what happened to him in his county council primary race as a cautionary tale for Spratt even though there were major complexities involved in his defeat.

Spratt has many challenges this year. Along with a rising tea party tide are the changing demographics of the 5th District. York County, which sits just south of Charlotte, has been the fasting-growing county in the state for years.

South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican who lost to Spratt four years ago, said in a phone interview that he expects there will be around 26,000 new voters this time around, many of them retirees that have moved into into the Palmetto State largely because of lower taxes.

"Mick is getting crowds that triple what I had," says Norman, a well-known legislator in the area who is now running for speaker of the S.C. House, "People are motivated now."

Buddy Motz, however, is one Republican who says he'll be splitting his ticket again for Spratt.

"I just don't think Mulvaney has the experience and the knowledge that would be a good replacement," Motz says. "Spratt has voted a lot on the national level on the Democratic side but he's done a lot for constituents locally and he's been established here. He's got deep roots. He's just been very influential. He's a sharp, smart guy, very good financially, so that's why I think he's been very successful."

Not all of Spratt''s constituents feel that way. Herman James is a tea party leader in Sumter, home to Shaw Air Force Base, a military installation Spratt, in his capacity as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has kept from closing.

A longtime Democrat who always supported Spratt, James says this fall he'll be going in a different direction. He's fed up with Congress and everyone serving in it.

In fact, James goes a step further. He said in a phone interview that if he had his druthers he'd tar and feather Spratt and run him out of town on a rail.

"That's not violent," he said. Instead he maintains, it would teach those in Congress a good lesson

Spratt's vote for national health care reform was the final straw for James.

"I went to his town hall meeting and I saw what went on down there," he says of meetings Spratt held throughout the 5th District before the vote on health care reform.

James says at one point there were three boxes, one favoring the bill, one opposed and one undecided. He says the one opposed was two-thirds full.

"When we asked [Spratt] how he was going to vote, oh, he didn't know," James says. "But we knew. We knew because however Pelosi wants him to vote that's how he's going to vote and that's the way it goes."

Mulvaney spokesman Bryan Partridge said at an event last month that many voters in South Carolina and the 5th District aren't going to vote a straight Democratic, or for that matter, a straight Republican ticket.

"They're going to go and vote their values," Partridge said. "They're struggling to make ends meet and they don't see those tough decisions being made in Washington, D.C."

Spratt's campaign manager, Will Brown, says he understands voters in the district are upset, especially about the congressman's vote on national health care reform. But he says the people in the district understand what Spratt stands for, that he's brought countless jobs to area for years, and the same can't be for Mulvaney.

"The problem for Mick Mulvaney is that even if the Republicans take the House he's going to be a back bencher," Brown says. "And the other problem is the people of this district don't know what he believes in."

Winthrop University political scientist and pollster Scott Huffmon, who lives in the 5th District, said that newcomers to the area don't have the tradition of splitting the ticket for Spratt and may not understand the story of his long career.

"He needs that story that's been happening all these years he's been in Congress," Huffmon says. "The question is: has the ideological tide turned so much that it will wash that away? He is definitely in the fight of his life. He's not doomed, he's not safe; he's in the fight."