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Rep. John Spratt is comfortable analyzing a nuclear disarmament treaty or dissecting a budget, but he finds packing a cardboard box difficult.
On a November morning, the 68-year-old South Carolinian surveyed his half-empty office, where bare shelves had been stripped of mementos accumulated over a 28-year Congressional tenure.
An archivist has recently visited Spratt’s office, packing up official papers, which researchers will later sort and catalog.
“Thank God for the University of South Carolina archives,” he says. “I don’t know if I have the stomach to do that.”
Spratt, who was swept out of office in the midterm elections, is saying goodbye to a Congressional career and to the colleagues he loves. And he’s finding that what he’s amassed over the decades isn’t easily tucked away into boxes.
Spratt professes, in his soft South Carolina drawl, that he’s at peace with his ouster, even a little relieved to have the bruising campaign behind him.
“I have grandchildren that I can spend more time with, I have projects I’d like to pursue and personal matters that have gone unattended for a long time,” he says. “All in all, it works out well for me.”
Spratt’s defeat to first-term state Senator Mick Mulvaney was one of the most bitter losses for Democrats.
Its plotline would warm the heart of any GOP political operative: Stoked by a national wave, upstart Republican topples longtime Democratic incumbent, despite the incumbent’s personal popularity and centrist leanings.
Some analysts pin Spratt’s loss on an unaggressive campaign that didn’t take Mulvaney’s challenge seriously until too late. Spratt in part credits an influx of third-party spending on ads slamming him as a Washington insider, beholden to party leaders.
Majority Whip James Clyburn, whose district adjoins Spratt’s, cites his genteel friend’s reluctance to go negative — either against his opponent or against polarizing national Democratic figures such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama.
No matter the cause, Spratt says he has stopped dwelling on his loss. “I have obviously replayed the game,” he says. “I used to play high school football, and Saturday mornings we would get together and play the game all over again, and I’ve done that in my mind. But I also know that it’s water over the dam, it can’t be recalled.”
The Workhorse Within
And while Spratt is circumspect, the workhorse within him isn’t quite at peace. His seemingly insatiable appetite for legislative detail and the way he relishes probing witnesses during committee hearings mark him as a legislator who loved the muckier parts of the job.
“I still have things I want to do … an agenda I really would like to have the opportunity to push through,” he says, conceding that doing so would have been difficult under a hardened GOP majority. Spratt plans to spend more time with family back home in York, S.C., once the Congressional session is over, but he doesn’t plan to get out of the policy game altogether. He hopes to land at a think tank, maybe organize some of his favorite speeches and opinion pieces into a memoir of sorts for his family.