COLUMBIA, SC -- How do you defeat an incumbent Congressman who has been elected 12 times since 1982 and who is a member of his party’s leadership?
Well, a good way to begin is to be recruited by Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
That’s what happened to Ralph Norman, a Rock Hill, South Carolina, real-estate developer and state representative, who announced in October 2005 that he would challenge Congressman John Spratt to represent South Carolina’s 5th District.
In This Corner, Wearing The Blue
John Spratt, the incumbent Congressman representing the 5th District of South Carolina (which includes the north central part of the state, bordering North Carolina), was first elected to Congress in 1982. He has risen through the ranks of the Democratic Party to become Assistant to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, ranking member of the Budget Committee, and one of the senior members of the Armed Services Committee.
John Spratt grew up in York, where he still lives. His personal accolades run longer than his Congressional accomplishments. Both his high school and Davidson College elected him President of the Student Body. He won a Marshall Scholarship to Oxford and earned a law degree from Yale. He served as a captain in the Army from 1969-71 and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. In 1971, he came home to practice law.
Spratt is a serious incumbent; his seniority matters, particularly in a state like South Carolina where voters are used to changing U.S. senators only every 50 years or so. Senator Strom Thurmond served from 1954-2003, chaired the Judiciary Committee and the Armed Services Committee several times each, served as president pro-tempore and ran for President in 1948. Senator Fritz Hollings served from 1966-2005, chaired the Budget Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and ran for president in 1984. Today, South Carolina is represented by two freshman senators, Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, and though they are rising stars, they have not resided long enough in the tradition-laden body to wield much power. And of the four Republican members of the South Carolina delegation to the House, not one was elected before 2001. Thus, John Spratt is the one high point on the seniority scale.