Politics

S.C. Democrat backs away from spokesman’s ‘bin Laden’ comment

Paul Conner Executive Editor

GREENVILLE, S.C. — South Carolina Democratic Rep. John Spratt distanced himself Friday from a campaign spokesman who suggested that voters in Spratt’s district would vote for Osama bin Laden if he ran as a Republican.

“Wayne Wingate does not speak for me in saying that there are voters who would vote Republican even if the candidate were Osama bin Laden,” Spratt said in a statement. “Though made in jest, it is a terrible attempt at humor, which is offensive and insulting and in no way reflects my views about voters in the 5th Congressional District.”

Wayne Wingate, Spratt’s communications director, was quoted this week in the Free Times, a Columbia, S.C., publication, saying, “If Osama bin Laden ran in this district as a Republican, he would get 38 to 40 percent of the vote in any election year.”

The Free Times also reported that Spratt was walking alongside Wingate when he made the comment.

Wingate’s comments drew criticism from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the state Republican Party, who are working to paint Spratt as out of touch with his district.

“It’s deplorable enough for John Spratt to compare his opponent to one of the most evil men on this planet,” said Andy Sere, communications director for the NRCC. “Even worse, though, is the utter contempt he showed for 40 percent of his constituents by equating them with terrorist-sympathizers. If his job-killing voting record left any doubt, this outrageous statement erases it: Spratt’s forgotten who he represents after three decades in Washington.”

Wingate apologized Thursday night, telling the Rock Hill Herald, “I am deeply sorry if anyone was offended by it,” he said. “If it detracts in any way from John Spratt, I regret saying it.”

Or did he?

The Sumter Item quoted Wingate Thursday as saying, “When I said it, I was just thinking of the most unlikable person someone could imagine. I was trying to say it really didn’t matter who the Republicans ran. They’d just vote for whoever the Republican candidate was.”

The state GOP further blasted Wingate’s apparent double-mindedness in a statement.

“It is hard to decide what is more troubling in this case – the fact that Spratt’s consultants cannot get their story straight about whether to apologize, or the fact that Spratt was standing right beside his aide when this was said, and did nothing to disagree,” said Karen Floyd, SCGOP chairman.

Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was first elected in 1982 and is facing a tough challenge from state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, whose campaign has been decidedly quiet about the story, having issued no official statement.

“From the time I first ran, I have enjoyed support among Republicans, and I would never make such a comparison,” Spratt continued in his statement. “I disagree with and denounce his remarks, and apologize to anyone offended.”

Whether Wingate did or did not apologize, he told the Herald that he plans to continue working with the campaign.