Beaufort, S.C. — Mark Sanford is the Wal-Mart of retail politics: It’s impossible to imagine how he could be more efficient. And on what might very well have been his last day of campaigning, he was in top form, tearing across South Carolina’s first congressional district in a last-ditch effort to resurrect his rollercoaster of a political career.
It’s the kind of narrative that political reporters drool over; there’s sex, divorce, trespassing charges — an inevitable fall from grace, and a possible return to it, and the peripheral involvement of one of the country’s most famous comedians to boot. It’s hard to conceive of how the race could get better than this. And according to recent polls, it could barely get any closer. South Carolina Republicans consistently describe the race as “a jump ball.” So Mark Sanford is taking the Monday before the election pretty seriously.
His last full day of the campaign starts a few minutes after 7:30 a.m., when he ambles into Collective Coffee, a Brooklyn-esque joint in Mount Pleasant with concrete floors and lots of exposed wood. Sanford doesn’t drink coffee, but details like that never stop him from going anywhere voters might be. And in the minimalist java shop, he looks a little, uh, out of place. He sports (and, evidently, always sports) pleated khakis that are just a touch too short. When he walks they billow up and out to display a peak of socks that appear to be navy blue. He also wears shoes that kind of look like they belonged to a farmer in another life.
“They’re really awful-looking and Martha [his assistant] gives me a hard time about them,” he tells me, “but they’re really comfortable.”
Sanford talks to every person in the coffee shop. He leans against a high table to ask a guest about his work and, as the man tells him about private contracting, Sanford’s mouth hangs agape.
“That’s really cool!” he blurts out when the man is finished.
Then he heads over to the pair of baristas and leans against the counter, doing this odd hamstring stretch as he peppers them with questions about how long they’ve worked there and how busy the coffee shop has been. He wraps up the conversation with a sentence that will be his refrain for the day: “I’ll be rude and leave a card and say I’d appreciate your consideration tomorrow,” he says, grinning.
The exchange is pleasant, but it’s doubtful they’ll consider him. Before Sanford showed up, one of the baristas told me he won’t be voting for the former governor because he wasted “millions of taxpayer dollars” to see his lover.
“Infidelity is nothing to me,” the barista added.
After downing his large OJ, Sanford heads over to a Bi-Lo grocery store across the parking lot. At this point, Sanford’s entourage is tiny — it’s just him, Martha, myself, and the only other journalist present, Slate’s Dave Weigel.
It stands in fairly stark contrast to what I understand to be Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s modus operandi. On Sunday, she took a coterie of reporters and staffers on a canvassing trip through a Charleston neighborhood. She drove in her enormous chartered “ELIZABETH MEANS BUSINESS” bus and approached (as I recall) four homes over the course of about 30 or 45 minutes. One of the staffers carried her umbrella — it was pouring rain — and another carried a clipboard. There must have been at least ten people between all the reporters and aides, which made the door-knocking a bit reminiscent of those Publishers Clearing House commercials.