Down to the Wire in South Carolina

Elizabeth Colbert-Busch and Mark Sanford
Credit: Fox News

As the special election in South Carolina’s 1st District looms, the once-lopsided race seems to have tightened considerably. Just two weeks ago, a poll had Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert-Busch leading former Republican governor Mark Sanford by a comfortable 9-point margin. Now, with two days left in the campaign, the congressional contenders appear to be in a dead heat.

Sanford’s surge has taken many by surprise given his penchant for personal missteps and erratic behavior. A 2009 affair with an Argentine woman haunted the final days of his turn as governor of the Palmetto State, and recent charges of trespassing at his ex-wife’s house blindsided his campaign staff. The latter transgression prompted the Republican National Congressional Committee to publicly abandon the candidate, pulling its funding and support from the race.

Colbert-Busch has enjoyed the opposite relationship with Washington, raking in cash from a fundraiser thrown by major Democratic leaders last month and from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A number of House and Senate Democrats have also helped fill her coffers. Democratic big-wigs were quick to embrace the businesswoman, while South Carolina GOP leaders like Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsay Graham waited until the week before the election to issue their endorsements of Sanford.

Still, Sanford’s odds are looking pretty good. The 1st is a deeply red district, and one in which Sanford has seen success in the past. He took over 60 percent of the vote in both his 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial pushes, and handily won the House seat for three terms from 1994 to 2000. Back in November, Mitt Romney carried the district with an 18-point lead over President Obama. Even more promising for the Republican hopeful is the disparate rate of voter turnout:  53,800 GOP voters lined up in the primary and 46,200 in the much-hyped runoff against Curtis Bostic, while only 16,500 Democrats participated in the Democratic primary. That means that Colbert-Busch must motivate over 10,000 voters to head to the polls this time around just to match Sanford’s vote total.

Sanford debates Pelosi cut-out
Credit: The Daily Beast

The former governor’s campaign has not been without its dramatic moments, from his family court drama to a highly-publisized debate between himself and a cardboard cut-out of Nancy Pelosi. For her part, Colbert-Busch made the potentially fatal mistake of failing to distance herself from the locally unpopular national party supporting her. But at the end of the day, the battle will boil down to a competing set of ideologies within the context of a conservative Southern electorate- and that stacks the deck in Sanford’s favor in spite of his scandalous past.

One 1st district voter perfectly captured the prevailing attitude toward Sanford’s infamous affair. “I don’t know what his relationship was with his wife and I don’t want to know,” she said. “Did he endanger the state of South Carolina? No.”

With just two days to go before the House will welcome a new representative, both candidates and their respective super PACs will be inundating South Carolinians with their most vigorous closing ads and speeches in an effort to convince voters to punch their ticket come Tuesday’s election.

1 Comment

  1. May 6, 2013  11:17 am by thatmrgguy Reply

    Here's my take on it.

    It's a toss up, but as you say, the odds are probably on Sanford's side. Sanford could have avoided the scandal if he had filed for divorce from his wife before taking the plunge with his Argentine girl friend.