Facing re-election at age 70, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is showing no signs of slowing down even as President Barack Obama's poll numbers are plunging, Democrats are under fire over a mosque in New York and U.S. Senate candidate Alvin Greene's name sits above his on the ballot.
But of all the Democrats running this year, Clyburn carries the strongest likelihood of re-election Nov. 2 as he seeks a 10th term representing the state's black-majority 6th District.
After 18 years in Washington, Clyburn is widely recognized as the most powerful, most visible Democrat in South Carolina. He's a confidant of the White House, high on the seniority list and the go-to guy for Democrats nationally when it's time to gather up their votes.
That leaves his Republican challenger, Jim Pratt of St. Matthews, a businessman who has never run for or held political office, with a monumental mountain to climb. For starters, this isn't a tea party district and most polls don't see Clyburn as even slightly vulnerable. Two years ago on Election Day, Democratic votes outnumbered Republican ones in the 6th District by 100,000.
Pratt's basic theme is that Clyburn is an entrenched politician who has been in D.C. far too long, while the mix of rural farm country and urban city 6th District has remained one of the poorest in the country.
"He's a rubber stamp for (Nancy) Pelosi," Pratt said in a recent interview. "I don't think South Carolina wants to be like San Francisco."
With the Obama administration passing its comprehensive health care reform bill, Clyburn is focused on what he views as the next course of action for the country: enacting national energy legislation. As Clyburn sees it, energy and green technology, and the jobs both can create, are the wave of the future. Along those lines, he advocates the expansion of nuclear power.
"It's the cleanest energy going," Clyburn said in a recent interview. "I think we made a big mistake in the country when we stepped away from nuclear."
"We're in the wars we're in right now because of the reliance we have on foreign oil," he added, saying that unless that dependency changes, oil politics will affect how the U.S. is perceived and treated internationally for many decades to come.
Pratt, 50, has been in South Carolina since only the early 2000s, moving here from California to work for an outdoor advertising firm. He took a roundabout path in landing here. Born in Georgia, his family moved to central Florida where his father was a high school principal.
After high school, Pratt attended the University of Florida from 1978-82, where he played football, coming back to finish his degree in 1992. It also was when he formed his politics, aligning with what he saw in Ronald Reagan's less-government mantra.
"You don't burden people and push them to their limits as far as taxes are concerned," he said.
After college, Pratt went into the construction business, later moving to California to become an inspector in the post-Northridge earthquake recovery. From there he went into education, then outdoor advertising, before relocating to South Carolina.
Pratt said government and the Obama administration are putting too much of a burden on America, pointing to a radio station he once did advertising for that was regulated by some 20 different agencies. "It's unsustainable what's required of them to keep their doors open," he said. His campaign is bare-bones and his wife, Karen, is his campaign manager.
While Clyburn is a heavy favorite, there are obvious mid-term struggles for Democrats. In South Carolina, that includes a ticket that includes Greene, who was indicted last month after he was accused of showing pornographic images to a female student at the University of South Carolina.
Clyburn said he will not vote for or support his party's nominee, Greene, saying it would be an insult to his three daughters.
He also called the recent debate against a mosque taking root near ground zero out of step with America's founding ideals.
"What we're doing here is running the risk of making us look to the rest of the world that we're a group of intolerants," he said, adding that "it's making us look as if we don't have enough conviction in the Constitution we love."
Clyburn plans to be more visible than ever in his campaigning this year, promoting his issues on radio and TV and promoting ideals he thinks the country needs to embrace.
"I don't want to wake up four or five years from now and say, 'I saw these things, I felt them, and I stayed quiet about them,'" he said.
Money won't be a problem for Clyburn. The most recent Federal Election Commission reports list Clyburn's campaign cash-on-hand at about $1.5 million, while Pratt trailed far back with only $1,400 in the bank and $1,300 in debt.
Also in the 6th District race is Green Party candidate Nammu Muhammad, a Columbia-based community activist who so far has been missing in action on the campaign trail. Repeated attempts to reach Muhammad were unsuccessful. His telephone is no longer in service, and Green Party associates say he has not been heard from as a campaigner in some time.
The annual salary for rank-and-file members of Congress is $174,000.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or email@example.com.