Floyd Spence

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Floyd Spence
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1971 – August 16, 2001
Preceded by Albert William Watson
Succeeded by Joe Wilson
Member of the South Carolina Senate from the 7th District
In office
January 14, 1969 – December 15, 1970
Member of the South Carolina Senate from the 22nd District
In office
January 10, 1967 – January 14, 1969
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Lexington County
In office
January 8, 1957 – January 8, 1963
Personal details
Born Floyd Davidson Spence
(1928-04-09)April 9, 1928
Columbia, South Carolina
Died August 16, 2001(2001-08-16) (aged 73)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Saint Peter's Lutheran Cemetery

Lexington, South Carolina

Political party Democratic (c. 1946–1962)
Republican (1962–2001)
Alma mater University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina School of Law

Profession Attorney
Religion Lutheran
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy Reserve
Years of service 1947-1988
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Korean War
Vietnam War

Floyd Davidson Spence (April 9, 1928 – August 16, 2001) was a Republican politician from the U.S. state of South Carolina.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, Spence spent most of his life in nearby Lexington County. Shortly after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve,from which he retired in 1988 as a captain. He graduated in 1952 from the University of South Carolina in Columbia with a degree in English and four years later earned his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Electoral history[edit]

After law school, Spence was soon elected as a Democrat to represent Lexington County in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1958 and 1960, but on April 14, 1962, Spence announced that he was switching to the Republican Party, having become uncomfortable with the national Democrats' increasingly liberal platform. He also opposed a loyalty oath required by South Carolina Democrats. On the same day, he announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for the state's 2nd congressional district, based in Columbia. He had been urged by several friends to run before his switch, especially after the death of its previous congressman, John J. Riley, but declined. Spence faced the Democratic nominee, fellow state representative Albert W. Watson of Columbia. Watson won his party nomination with 51.8 percent of the vote over Frank C. Owens, the former mayor of Columbia and the choice of party regulars. Watson then defeated Spence with 52.8 percent of the general election vote, the closest congressional race in South Carolina in memory. However, the 2nd had always had a conservative bent; the area's old-line Democrats had begun splitting their tickets in national elections as early as the 1940s. Ultimately, Watson prevailed due to the support of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, the former governor who had run for president in 1948 as the nominee of the one-election only third party, the States Rights Party, popularly known as the Dixiecrats.

Prior to the 1960s, the Democratic Party had fully dominated South Carolina. The Democratic primary was the real contest in most races, and Democrats routinely won general election races with over 80 percent of the vote. Spence was the first Republican in either house of the legislature since 1902. In 1966, Spence was elected to the South Carolina Senate and became the minority leader of a six-member caucus. He was reelected in 1968.

In 1970, Spence ran for the 2nd congressional district seat again. Watson, who had defeated Spence eight years before, had become a Republican in 1965, a year after Thurmond's own defection, and was instead running for governor. This time, Watson was defeated by the Democratic lieutenant governor, John C. West, but Spence won a narrow victory for the House seat that Watson vacated. Spence became the first freshman Republican congressman from South Carolina since 1896 and only the second since Reconstruction to win—Watson was the first—an undisputed victory in a House election in the state. Spence was unopposed for reelection in the Nixon-Agnew landslide of 1972 and reelected fourteen times thereafter.

In 1974, Spence defeated Matthew J. Perry, who later became South Carolina's first African American judge of the United States District Court in Columbia, in what was otherwise a weak year for Republicans nationally tough James B. Edwards succeeded where Albert Watson had failed in becoming the first Republican governor of South Carolina since Reconstruction. Spence faced no credible opposition again until 1980, when Democratic state Senator Tom Turnipseed, an Alabama native and a lawyer from Columbia, ran against him. One of Spence's consultants, Lee Atwater, ran several push polls—a new tactic at the time—informing voters that Turnipseed was a member of the NAACP and had undergone mental-health treatments as a teenager, telling reporters that Turnipseed had been hooked up to "jumper cables". In a letter to Turnipseed after his own diagnosis of fatal brain cancer, Atwater called the jumper-cable remark "one of the low points" of his career. This episode is covered in the award-winning documentary film Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. Aided by Ronald W. Reagan at the head of the Republican ticket, Spence was reelected with 55 percent of the vote. After cruising to reelection in 1982 and 1984, Spence won by only 7 percent in 1986, in which year Carroll Campbell became the second Republican to win the South Carolina governorship since Reconstruction. Spence faced another tough campaign in 1988, but did not face major-party opposition again until 1998.

Congressional career[edit]

For his first eleven terms, Spence represented a relatively compact district in the central portion of the state. However, the 1990s round of redistricting shifted nearly all of his African-American constituents to the majority-black 6th District. To compensate for this loss in population, Spence's district was pushed well to the south and west, as far south as the resort city of Hilton Head Island and as far west as the fringes of the Augusta suburbs. The loss of most of the district's African-American voters, who by then comprised much of the Democratic base in the district, was a likely factor in the Democrats not even putting up a candidate against Spence for most of the 1990s.

In 1993, Spence became ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, having been a member of the panel since his first term. The 2nd District includes Fort Jackson. He became the committee's chairman in 1995 after the Republicans under Newt Gingrich of Georgia gained their first majority in the House in forty years. Spence renamed the House Armed Services Committee the "Committee on National Security" when he took over as chairman. He focused on military readiness, calling it "the best insurance we have both for peace and freedom." Spence was also a strong advocate of missile defense.[1] He stepped down as chairman after the 106th Congress because of caucus-imposed term limits. He later served as chairman of the House subcommittee on military procurement.[2]

Death and succession[edit]

Spence died in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 2001, at the age of seventy-three from complications following brain surgery. He had been admitted to St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, three weeks earlier for testing and treatment for nerve pain in his face. In 1988, he had received a double lung transplant in the same facility.[3]

Upon Spence's death, his former aide, Republican State Senator Joe Wilson, won the special election for the vacant seat.


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Albert Watson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 2nd congressional district

January 3, 1971 – August 16, 2001
Succeeded by
Joe Wilson
Political offices
Preceded by
Ron Dellums
Chairman of the House National Security Committee
Succeeded by
Bob Stump