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Mulvaney going to Congress

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Family will stay put in IL; he will commute to Congress

By Chris Sardelli

About 15 minutes after becoming the first Republican from Lancaster County to win the 5th Congressional District seat in more than 100 years, Mick Mulvaney appeared overwhelmed.
Surrounded by his wife, Pam, and members of his campaign team, Mulvaney, the state senator for District 16, thanked a crowd of supporters at the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster for his win over Democratic incumbent John Spratt, who has held the seat since 1983.
Mulvaney won the seat late Tuesday night after a tense campaign that often focused as much on issues as it did the sources of campaign contributions for each candidate.
Mulvaney won the race with 119,698 votes, about 55 percent of the vote, to Spratt’s 98,875 votes.
“We end tonight at the same place we started,” Mulvaney told the crowd. “We want to look at what folks really agree on.”
He credited his historic win to the more than 900 people who had signed up to volunteer on his campaign, though he said the real number of volunteers was probably more than 1,000. He also mentioned the more than 4,000 individual contributions his campaign received and marveled at the fact that he and his supporters had put up about 17,000 signs during the campaign.
“We figured if we’re going to lose, we might as well have a good time doing it, and we surrounded ourselves with good people,” he said. “I couldn’t do justice by trying to thank everyone.”
Mulvaney won in traditional Democratic Party strongholds Chesterfield and Dillon counties. He said that was monumental for his election.
“I’m going to take a minute and thank some people and I hope you’re not offended because I’m related to most of them,” he said, with a laugh.
Mulvaney thanked his family, including his parents, his wife and his three children, as well as his supporters.
But he singled out one man in particular for contributing to his campaign – John Major of Cherokee County. Major drove Mulvaney’s campaign bus all over the district, despite being recently diagnosed with cancer.
“His doctor said with the treatments he would be laid up, so he said, ‘I can’t take the treatments until we finish this campaign,’” Mulvaney said.
Major became disillusioned with Spratt after hearing him support the national health care bill at a town hall meeting last fall. Soon after, he met Mulvaney and decided to support his campaign.
“I said, ‘I’ll support you and I’ll help you,’” Major said to The Lancaster News earlier in the night. “I told him we want a voice in our government. And I’ve been on the trail with him ever since.”
Major converted a bus for Mulvaney and became his driver for the rest of the campaign.
After an emotional hug with Mulvaney on Tuesday night, Major took the podium.
“That’s why it’s so important to get involved,” Major said. “Don’t sit back and let someone else do it.”
Mulvaney’s campaign declared victory about 11:30 p.m. Not all numbers were in, including those from Lancaster County, but Mulvaney had a big lead.
Spratt conceded the race about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday with a phone call to Mulvaney’s campaign staff, after the final tallies were in.
Looking back and looking forward
After his acceptance speech was over and the crowd began to die down, Mulvaney looked back on his last year of campaigning.
“Today was the most difficult day. There was so little to do, I had to just sit back,” he said. “I’ve been doing this six or seven days a week. I had to go from 100 miles an hour to nothing, so I had a lot of nervous energy tonight.”
He said the most difficult part of his campaign were the large number of television attack ads that aired.
“I think the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “A lot of people saw through it (the ads). South Carolina politics is a dirty business sometimes, but this is encouraging. It shows you can run a positive campaign and win.”
Mulvaney also addressed whether the grass-roots Tea Party movement had anything to do with his win.
“They are a small group in numbers, but very important,” he said. “Those folks were very, very dedicated.”
Mulvaney’s wife said she was surprised by the reaction they received on the campaign trail.
“The turnout has been humbling, uplifting,” Pam Mulvaney said. “I don’t have the words to express how grateful we are for the turnout.”
“The people we’d meet, the quality and quantity of good people, it’s just been overwhelming,” she said.
Looking toward his first days in Washington, D.C., Mulvaney said his first priorities will be working to repeal the national health care bill, developing a new budget and extending George W. Bush tax cuts.
As a supporter of the state’s Home Rule Act, Mulvaney said another of his top priorities will be to determine how best to communicate local needs to the federal government.
“I want to meet with local leaders and find out what’s important to them,” he said.
Mulvaney said he will keep a three-day work week in Washington, flying in on Tuesdays and coming back home Fridays.
“I want to make an effort to keep a normal family life,” he said. “My wife has her horse, my kids have their chickens. I want to try to keep everything as normal as possible.”
Pam Mulvaney seconded her husband’s statement. She does not plan on moving her family to the nation’s capital.
“We’re staying here. He’s got to look everybody in the eye now and explain his actions when he makes them,” she said. “I’m not taking our chickens, our horse, or our children up there. He will be a commuting congressman.”
A change of mind
In a November 2008 interview with The Lancaster News, only days after winning the District 16 state Senate seat, Mulvaney dismissed rumors that he might run for Spratt’s seat.
“I’m perfectly happy being in the Senate,” Mulvaney said then. “So much in politics is timing. Public service is public service and you go where you can be the most effective.”
In the interview, he said his family had grown roots in the community and running for federal office “would mean ripping all that away.” At the time, Mulvaney said he was looking forward to serving “a couple terms” in the state Senate.
“If you ask any politician if he has higher aspirations, it’s like asking a young man if he wants to get married,” Mulvaney said in 2008. “He says he wants to, but then eventually he has to face the reality of it.”
Looking back on that interview, Mulvaney said what changed his mind was the passage of the national health care bill. After that, he said he felt compelled to run.
“I got angry,” he said. “I decided to run, but I fully expected to lose the race. All I really wanted at that point was to have a debate over health care with Mr. Spratt.”
“I wanted to challenge his assertion that the federal takeover of health care was a good thing, but I expected to lose,” he said. “But I found it wasn’t just health care. It was stimulus spending, his voting record. It opened a lot of people’s eyes about how he had changed. The John Spratt of 10 to 15 years ago wouldn’t have that voting record.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416