ROCK HILL, S.C. -- The House budget committee chairman and South Carolina's longest serving congressman was ousted Tuesday from the seat he held for nearly three decades following a campaign that painted him as an out-of-touch lackey of Washington Democrats.
Rep. John Spratt was beaten by Mick Mulvaney, a Republican businessman with tea party backing still in his first term in the state Senate.
Mulvaney had about 55 percent of the vote with more than 85 percent of precincts reporting. Still, the veteran lawmaker refused to concede.
"I simply don't think it's appropriate to say we're throwing in the towel," Spratt told supporters before leaving, but indicated the end was near, adding, "I did my very best."
Spratt, 68, considered retiring after finding out he had Parkinson's disease but was encouraged to run again by Democrats who hoped hanging on to his seat might help them keep control of the U.S. House.
But several factors finally caught up to Spratt as he sought a 15th term. Most of the newcomers into the sprawling 5th District have come to communities just south of Charlotte, N.C. They were attracted by lower taxes and make a district that has voted for a Republican president in every election since 1984 even more conservative.
Spratt also found himself in an election cycle where Democrats controlled both the Congress and the presidency, forcing him to defend decisions supported by his party, like the health care reform bill and economic stimulus package.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited donations from corporations and others for ads not directly supporting a candidate hurt Spratt. He raised nearly $2 million, compared to just over $1 million for Mulvaney. But groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Federation of Independent Business poured in more than $2 million, leveling the field.
Spratt spent most of his campaign detailing his accomplishments in 28 years in Congress, while Mulvaney accused Spratt of siding more with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in recent years than his constituents.
Mulvaney, 43, lived in Charlotte for most of his life before moving a few miles away to South Carolina in 2002. He worked as a lawyer before becoming a real estate investor and developer, spending two years in the state House before running for the state Senate in 2008.
Throughout the campaign, he said he considered Spratt a friend who just fell out of touch with the people in his district.
"Obviously I'm going to vote differently from John. But my staff will make sure the people will not see a drop off in their constituent service," Mulvaney said.
Spratt was first elected in 1982 and managed to keep his seat fairly easily despite the growing Republican tide in South Carolina. His previous closest race came in 1994, when he won with 52 percent of the votes as the GOP again swept control of the U.S. House from Democrats.