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Politics

Election Results Mixed Bag For Incumbents In The Carolinas

http://66.225.205.104/SG20101103.mp3

Tuesday's election results turned out to be a mixed bag for incumbent Congressional Democrats in the Carolinas. John Spratt lost his bid for a 15th term in South Carolina's 5th district. In North Carolina, Congressman Bob Etheridge lost his US House seat. But, Larry Kissel, Mike McIntyre and Heath Shuler all won their races and will return to Washington. WFAE's Scott Graf spoke with Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon for some analysis. Scott Graf: Scott, good morning! Scott Huffmon: Good morning, how are you doing? SG: I'm very well, sir. How painful is Spratt's loss for Democrats not only in South Carolina, but nationally as well? SH: That was a very symbolic race. The Republicans really wanted John Spratt's head on a pike as a trophy, as a symbol of, you know, coming back against Obama. He was very prominent with Obama. Obama made sure he was on Air Force One for a photo-op. The chorus of "He's Pelosi's boy" echoed through the district. So that was very symbolic, and of course the Democrats... it was very important for them to keep their budget committee chairman. So that was a painful loss for them. SG: Spratt survived the Republican Revolution back in the 1990s. He didn't this time. What was different this year? SH: Well, in 1994, I don't think there was as much organization among the anti-Clinton folks as there was among the anti-Obama folks this time. There's a lot more outside money pouring in. The loss certainly wasn't solely in the pockets of the Citizens United decision, but that made an impact. You know, all this outside money rolling in, plus the sort-of darker mood against the president than against Bill Clinton. You know, we thought it was bad before. This time, there was much more anger in the Tea Party, the organization that sort-of gelled around the Tea Party was much more organized than Spratt's opposition in 1994. And all that said, Mick Mulvaney used a really good strategy: he didn't alienate the people who had supported John Spratt for 14 terms. He said, "Listen, the old John Spratt was great." Basically saying to them, "John Spratt all along was wonderful, but he's changed." So if he'd gone in saying, "John Spratt had always been a liability," he might have alienated some of those voters. It really was a combination of strategy, Tea Party organization, and greater anger at Obama than there was toward Clinton, I think. SG: We just mentioned Congressmen Shuler, Kissell, and McIntyre, each won their races. What did they do right and thus are able to hang on to their seat in the House? SH: Well, you know they were able to point to several of the votes that they cast and say, "Listen, I'm not a liberal Democrat. That label is not going to stick on me. I'm a moderate or a conservative Democrat." For some of them, there was a lot of controversy around Pantano, you know, that McIntyre was running against. Both Schuler and Kissell were able to say, "You elected me to be a moderate, I was able to do that." I'd like to see the precinct breakdowns for Kissell-Johnson, but I'm guessing the further away from Charlotte you got, the more Kissell was able to solidify his support. And they were able to hang in there. SG: As Democrats look back on what happened yesterday both in South and North Carolina, is there anything that they're going to wish that they could do over again? Or considering the political environment here this fall, were these results imminent? SH: Well, you know I think they would hope that they could have shored up some of their firewalls a little better. You know it was always a strategy game of saying, "Where do we pour in money, how do we pour in money? What is our strategy? What races do we pick as firewalls?" They are going to be going back and saying, "Did we pick the right races to defend?" Because they're going to look back say "This is a much bigger pickup for the Republicans than they got in '94, were we wrong strategically?" SG: Scott Huffmon is a political scientist at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. Scott, we always appreciate your time. SH: It is always a pleasure to be on my home NPR station.