Voters in South Carolina’s first congressional district head to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to offer former Gov. Mark Sanford a chance at political redemption, or instead send the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert to Congress.
Sanford, the Republican former governor whose time in office ended in a scandal triggered by a nationally-publicized extramarital affair and subsequent divorce, is seeking to once again win the district that elected him to Congress for three terms. A special election was called for this solidly Republican seat following GOP Rep. Tim Scott’s resignation to become the state’s next senator.
Randall Hill / Reuters
Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford shake hands after the South Carolina 1st Congresional debate in Charleston on April 29, 2013.
But while Sanford entered the special election as a modest favorite, he’s run into stiff opposition from Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a Clemson University administrator whose famous sibling has helped elevate what might otherwise be a mundane congressional race into a national media spectacle.
Democrats have rallied behind Colbert Busch, who has leaned on her relationships with members of the Charleston-area district during the campaign, and stressed her interest in partnering with businesses. Her experience, combined with Sanford’s personal baggage, has transformed the campaign into a competitive contest in a district where a Democrat hasn’t won since the early 1980s.
Sanford, in turn, has cast his Democratic challenger as a handmaiden of national Democrats, particularly House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a cardboard cutout of whom Sanford staged a debate with several weeks ago.
But the biggest unspoken variable in the campaign has undeniably been the affair that practically torpedoed Sanford’s political career, which, at the time, included presidential aspirations.
Sanford launched his campaign by acknowledging the mistakes he’d made in conducting an extramarital affair with Argentine woman Maria Belen Chapur (who is now Sanford’s fiancée). The affair was an undercurrent for much of this spring’s campaign until Jenny Sanford, the governor’s former wife, filed a lawsuit alleging Sanford of having trespassed on her property.
For his part, Sanford’s betting that stage of the campaign is behind him.
NBC News' Chuck Todd joins Morning Joe to discuss the latest developments in Syria, the White House's response to Israel's alleged airstrike in Syria, GOP criticism of the White House's "red line" comment and the latest developments in the South Carolina congressional race between Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
"I think that [voters] had largely moved past my personal life at the end of the runoff, because I would have never won that runoff if that was still the focus," Sanford told the Huffington Post. "I think that the whole trespassing, October surprise thing brought that all back into the forefront."
Nonetheless, the revelation shook up the campaign, prompting the National Republican Congressional Committee – the group charged with electing GOP-ers to the House – to withdraw its resources from the campaign. And Democrats, along with supportive super PACs, stepped forward to launch their own advertising blitz in support of Colbert Busch.
Those moves prompted speculation that Sanford’s bid at political redemption might come up short following today’s special election. But the former governor has sought to battle back in recent days by stampeding throughout the district (with a handful of national media members in tow) and hosting multiple events.
But Colbert Busch has also tried to sustain her momentum with the benefit of national Democrats working on her behalf, who are eager to peel a vote away from Republicans’ majority in the House.
This story was originally published on Tue May 7, 2013 5:09 AM EDT