For Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who left office under a cloud of personal scandal, political redemption must come in three phases.
He completed the first last night when he ran well ahead of 15 other candidates in the Republican primary to fill a vacant congressional seat. The second phase will come on April 2 when he must face former Charleston County council member Curtis Bostic in a runoff. The last would come in May when, if he wins the runoff, he must face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a business-development director who is the sister of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. Her brother has brought in a great deal of national money for her through his fundraising efforts.
Sanford won 37 percent of the vote last night, far ahead of Bostic’s 13 percent. But most observers believe his victory in the runoff is anything but assured. Turnout will be very low, and Bostic’s enthusiastic band of evangelical supporters will be out in force. In addition, Bostic is an outsider with none of the baggage many of the traditional candidates had. He will also have the tacit support of Senator Tim Scott, who served for six years with Bostic on the county council and encouraged him to make the race for the House seat that Scott vacated in January when he was appointed to the Senate.
The other problem Sanford will have is that many believe he could lose the seat to a Democrat — especially a business-oriented woman such as Colbert Busch. Her platform is pitched perfectly toward moderates: protecting retirement benefits, an expansion of engineering and science education and reducing the deficit by eliminating waste. “I am a fiscal conservative Democrat,” she tells reporters. “I understand what it means [to] and how to cut waste.”
Pat Caddell, a Democratic strategist who grew up and lives in Charleston, says that kind of moderate appeal makes Colbert Busch a real contender. “If Sanford is the final GOP candidate he could lose a 58 percent Romney district based on his weakness with women voters over the affair he had while governor,” he told me. “Given this is the first special election for Congress in 2013, the positive impact for Obama that would have is huge.”
Caddell says he finds it “inexplicable” the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has no plans yet to hit Colbert Busch with negative ads. “All they’d have to do is tell voters that a vote for Colbert Busch is a vote for Obama’s agenda and Pelosi’s leadership,” he says. “If the race stays focused on local issues, Democrats have a real chance.”