In another time and place, in an era devoid of razor-sharp political elbows, Tea Party politics and instant, viral communication, South Carolina Rep. John Spratt might be just another powerful incumbent cruising to easy re-election.
But this is no ordinary year, and Spratt is no ordinary politician.
The Democrat, the dean of the S.C. delegation with 28 years in Washington, faces the fight of his political life, his district a bellwether of the future tilt and tone of the country.
Spratt, a quiet man known for a keen intellect, wry humor and phenomenal mastery of numbers, knows there is a dark mood among voters resonating beyond his 5th Congressional District. It's a palpable anger over the long economic downturn and the loss of jobs, paired with deep skepticism over bank bailouts, federal stimulus spending and health care reform.
His Republican opponent, state Sen. Michael "Mick" Mulvaney of Indian Land, has tapped into that uncertainty and anger.
While not the toughest competition he has faced in 14 campaigns — Spratt reserves that honor for Republicans Larry Bigham and former state Rep. Carl Gullick — Mulvaney has one significant edge.
"What he has got going for him," Spratt told supporters at a recent Democratic forum in Lake Wylie, "is he is riding the crest of a long wave."
The New Yorker magazine, in a 2001 profile, described Spratt as a "wielder of limited but deep-seated authority, in the manner of someone who has been headmaster of the same small boarding school for decades."
Never mind that he toiled in the shadows of South Carolina's more flamboyant politicians, never the rhetorical match for retired Sen. Ernest Hollings with his brash storytelling and Lowcountry drawl and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond with his gift of glad-handing and gab.
Over time, the solid Spratt, with his banker nature, workhorse ethic and Ivy League credentials, rose to become dean of the South Carolina delegation and chairman of the House Budget Committee, a plum among assignments.
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