Statistical tie continues in South Carolina's 5th District Race

Sylvia Cochran
Yahoo! Contributor NetworkOctober 25, 2010
South Carolina 5th District

In an attempt to break the statistical tie that has made the South Carolina 5th U.S. House District race between Republican Mick Mulvaney and incumbent Democrat John Spratt impossible to call, one of the candidates has resorted to an ad campaign that backfired.

Initially termed a Goliath vs. David battle, Spratt looked like he had little to worry in this race. The 5th District features a mix of rural areas spread over a variety of counties, including Marlboro and Cherokee. Spratt is endorsed by Vice President Joe Biden and he managed to get President Obama to do a cameo in a campaign ad; Gov Track terms Spratt as a moderate Democrat who is more of a follower than a leader. He has held his South Carolina 5th District seat since 1983, which gives him a solid track record.

State Sen. Mulvaney is a sufficiently moderate Republican to give Spratt serious competition although mid-January polling suggested that Spratt had a 46 percent to 39 percent lead over his competitor. Public Policy Polling nevertheless cautioned that its four-percent error margin could quite possible narrow the gap between the candidates.

Negative ad backfires

With only a couple of weeks to go until Election Day, the still too-close-to-call South Carolina 5th District race is heating up with negative ads and sound bites. Spratt is currently seeking to oust Mulvaney as being an "anti-government" libertarian; the latter counters by calling Spratt a "top supporter of the Democratic agenda." Although thin on content, these attacks are high on emotion.

While negative advertising is part and parcel of good electioneering, the Spratt attack ad "Edenmoor - Mick Mulvaney's Legacy" has backfired dismally and actually led to attacks against the incumbent's business practices. Fingering Mulvaney as a failed land developer who left residents high and dry, the ad's main player is an exec from an education collections firm that -- as outlined by Politico -- has financial and political ties to Spratt in a low-level pay to play deal.

Latest polling

The race continues to be a nail-biter. The TPM Poll Tracker has given up on South Carolina's 5th District race and calls it even 46 percent to 46 percent. This is a far cry from the close (but at least somewhat differentiated) 43 percent to 41 percent favoring Spratt back in March. In May, a GOP poll showed that the numbers that had shifted slightly in Mulvaney's favor show a loss of five points for the incumbent but an increase of six points for the Republican challenger. Although the margin of error is about 5.3 percent, the direction of voter sentiment is clear.

Granted, Cook Political says the 5th District is R+7 and ranks it as the 147th most Republican, yet the data also suggests that there is a shift underfoot. While President Bush was the choice in 2004 (with 57 percent to 42 percent) and John McCain in 2008 (the spread was 53 percent to 46 percent), it is evident that the slightly conservative leanings are lessening in the district.

Could it be that in spite of backfiring negative ad and a tough opponent, Spratt might be able to eke out another term in the South Carolina 5th District?