Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina running for Congress in the special election in that state’s first congressional district, spoke to NRO’s Jim Geraghty Wednesday afternoon.
JIM GERAGHTY: The big debate was Monday night. What’s your sense of the state of the race after that debate — apparently the only debate you two will have in this campaign?
MARK SANFORD: I think it’s really unfortunate that it will be the only debate. We pushed for a month to have debates. Whether your perspective is liberal or conservative, one of the things that has held us together as Americans is this notion of sitting at the table and debating and having a conversation about ideas. That process of conversation is really the foundation of coming up with solutions that ultimately can better people’s lives and solve problems.
The idea that there would be a campaign run in the 1st congressional district that is reliant on a lot of money from out-of-state interest groups — in this case left-leaning Democratic interest groups — while at the same time skipping out on debates doesn’t serve this district well. Nonetheless, that’s where we’ve been.
Democratic groups, in total, have put more than a million dollars into this race. Pelosi’s PAC put in $370,000, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put in $200,000, and that is where we are. But as people have come to learn more about what Elizabeth Colbert Busch stands for, things have been trending in our direction. We’ll see.
GERAGHTY: We’ll get the official spending numbers in the near future, but what’s your sense of how badly you’re being outspent? I’ve heard some people say anecdotally they’re seeing four or five ads for Colbert Busch for every one ad for you.
SANFORD: That’s correct; it’s been a four- or five-to-one ratio — which is not what you want in the world of politics.
People are scratching their heads and saying, “Wait a minute, if the Democratic party is willing to put this kind of money into this race, why do they want this seat so badly?” . . . What’s going on here is much larger than the first congressional district. This is the first congressional election since Obama was reelected president of the United States. He has said that he wants to take the Congress in 2014 to ensure his legacy. The reason they’re pouring so much money into this race is that they believe that if they can win here, they can argue to the political-investor community that they can win the other 15 seats that they need to take back the House. There is much more in play than actually meets the eye.
GERAGHTY: The supporters of your runoff-primary rival, Curtis Bostic, are a group of several thousand Republicans who have had the chance to vote for you twice in recent months and who have chosen someone else twice. These are voters who presumably would prefer a conservative candidate to a liberal candidate but who may have some disagreements with you. What’s your approach to winning over these voters?
SANFORD: I’d say my approach is to win them over one by one. I spend a lot of time going out and doing traditional retail politics. We just came out of Hubee D’s, a chicken-finger place west of Ashley. I talk to folks literally from all walks of life. I don’t think there’s any magic formula for reaching those folks, but we’re certainly beginning that process.
Keep in mind, though, Colbert Busch herself said at the debate that she was pro-choice. I don’t think that fits in in any way with those Bostic supporters’ beliefs, either on choice or on a whole range of other issues. Colbert Busch has been largely undefined: She was unwilling to debate for the entire month of the general election, and this is the first change in that. If you’re not certain where someone is, folks will sometimes give you the benefit of the doubt, but that life-focused community of Bostic supporters, I think, were probably paying attention to what she said in the debate. It will travel out anecdotally.
GERAGHTY: One of the curveballs that shook up this race was the trespassing charge against you. Is there any other news that you could foresee coming up in the final week before Election Day, when charges and counter-charges get most intense?
SANFORD: South Carolina is the poster child for strange campaign tactics on the eve of every election. Yesterday, the pornographer Larry Flynt supposedly endorsed my campaign. I don’t think it’s by accident that he is doing that five or six days before the general election. It’s an effort to bring the focus back to my personal life and the well-chronicled failure that has already been discussed at length.
The whole trespassing issue was unforeseen, because that information had been kept in records that were supposedly sealed for the good of our children. Wherever one is on these matters, you can have a mom and a dad who both legitimately and equally love their kids but see two different ways of showing it. That’s why we have a family-court system. These matters should never be deliberated in a larger venue, where it can get back to the kids and it can be brought up at school; it’s not a fair format for the children involved.
How it came out, I don’t have a clue. I guess there are always October surprises in November elections, and I guess that was ours.
Initially people were very concerned, but then they saw that there’s a broader story here. They say, “Whoa, you’re telling me he was at a Super Bowl party with one of his boys; his boy wanted to go home; the former wife was out of town; she was flying back that night; he called; he didn’t want the son to watch the game by himself — that’s a very different story.” People have seen the fuller context now.
GERAGHTY: There are two themes that your campaign has emphasized in the past weeks — one is the union that opposed the Boeing relocation to South Carolina, and the other is the idea that a vote for Colbert Busch is a vote for Nancy Pelosi. Are these your main closing themes, or is there some other closing message coming this week?
SANFORD: It wasn’t as much about unions, really, as about the idea that you have to make a choice. You can’t be all things to all people in the world of politics. On each vote, you have to go “yes” or “no.” Up until that debate, on most of these issues, Colbert Busch wanted to be “yes” and “no.” She could call herself an “independent businesswoman,” but at the same time she would go to a union hall and say, “I want to be your voice in Washington, D.C.”
We said, wait a minute. This is the “let’s stay undefined and that way I can be all things to all people” approach. We need to say where we stand on issues.
The union in question is the one that actually brought the case before the National Labor Relations Board. This isn’t just some odd contributor. If they had been successful, they would have prevented Boeing — arguably the biggest economic development in the Charleston area — from being here! You’ve got to pick one or the other; you can’t pick both. To date, she has not been willing to pick a side. You can pick Boeing — who gave our campaign the maximum contribution allowed by law — but you don’t get the luxury of being on all sides of an issue like this.
On Pelosi: We’re not just at a financial crossroads in this nation, but at a philosophical tipping point. If Pelosi were to become speaker again, I don’t think her solutions would be anything like the ones preferred by the people of this district. She’s been such a heavy player in this race. I’ve heard more about Nancy Pelosi’s opinions of me than I have about Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s.
GERAGHTY: In these last six days, as you and your campaign begin to focus on getting out the vote, is your biggest concern getting enough donations, volunteers, or some other factor?
SANFORD: It’s all of the above, although we have a ton of volunteers. We’re certainly resource-short relative to Pelosi and company. When they chuck in a million dollars, we just can’t compete with that. I took out an ad in the paper, and I told people, every time you see that ad, call up and talk to two or three friends. If enough people do that, we’re going to be okay in this race.
We’re working on having the resources we need to get our message on the airwaves. We’re going to wear out our shoe leather in these last couple of days.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.