ALLENDALE, S.C. -- There are few voters in rural Allendale County, and most usually vote Democratic. But Republican U.S. Rep. Floyd Spence concedes no territory in the otherwise strongly Republican 2nd District as he faces his first serious challenge in a decade.
So one sleepy October afternoon, with Mr. Spence tied up in Washington in the budget debate, his son David and several campaign workers meet voters at Bea's Restaurant, which shares the same building as the Shell Stop and Go on Allendale's main street.
"Dad would never have been in Congress had it not been for the Democrats who believed in him," David Spence tells the gathering.
That was almost three decades ago, in 1970, when Floyd Spence was first elected and one of a handful of Republican lawmakers in South Carolina.
Now the state is strongly Republican and the 70-year-old Mr. Spence is chairman of the powerful House National Security Committee in a district dotted with military bases.
His rare Democratic opponent is Jane Frederick, a 39-year-old Beaufort architect and political newcomer who says Mr. Spence is out of touch.
Voters care about defense but want the environment protected and improvements in health care and education, Ms. Frederick said. "I feel I'm fairly moderate, but on social issues I am more generous. We do have a responsibility to our society," she said.
Also running is Maurice Raiford of the Natural Law Party, a 57-year-old University of South Carolina physics professor who says Congress needs a more scientific approach to the nation's problems.
Mr. Spence, who scheduled more than 60 drop-ins or appearances during the campaign's final three weeks, says he's effective because Republicans have control of Congress. "I've been in the minority and I know you can't do much there," he said. If Mr. Spence can't make an appearance, he makes sure a family member is there in his stead.
David Peterson, 63, a retired engineer who moved to Beaufort from Washington six years ago, said some feel Mr. Spence is one of the good old boys and too far away.
But serving as chairman of the National Security Committee "could well be enough to send him back," Mr. Peterson said. "Unless something happens, she might not have a chance."
Ms. Frederick says her "real doable" strategy is to appeal to moderate Republicans, dent Mr. Spence's base in Republican Lexington County and carry the rest of the district that stretches from Columbia to the state's southern tip.
The numbers -- votes and dollars -- would seem to be against her. Campaign spending reports filed Oct. 15 showed she had $12,000 on hand to Spence's $160,000 for the final days of the campaign.
The district also is more Republican than when Mr. Spence last faced a Democrat. It now includes Republican Beaufort County, while Democratic strongholds were moved into the black-majority 6th District.
There's also a soft spot in many voters' hearts for their congressman who underwent a rare double-lung transplant in 1988, the same year he remarried after his first wife died.
Julie Britt, a former Democratic operative who worked on President Bill Clinton's 1978 gubernatorial campaign in Arkansas, also managed Democrat Fred Zeigler's unsuccessful campaign against Mr. Spence in 1986.
"I certainly wouldn't tell anyone who valued their bank account to run against him," she said. "It's my feeling he's almost as untouchable as Strom is."
And like the state's longtime Republican senator, Strom Thurmond, Mr. Spence seems to draw his share of support from Democratic constituencies.
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