Mark Sanford might win on Tuesday. That’s good news for Democrats.

May 6, 2013

Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is the momentum candidate heading into Tuesday's special election in the state's 1st district.  Should he win, it's a bit of short-term pain for the potential of long-term gain for House Democrats.


Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. AP photo.

Yes, you read that right.  Losing a potentially winnable seat in a special election might wind up helping Democrats nationally more than emerging victorious would.

Here's why.

Sanford is damaged goods, politically speaking, thanks to his acknowledgment in 2009 that he had disappeared from the state to visit his mistress in Argentina as well as more recent revelations that he had trespassed in his ex-wife's house in order to watch the Super Bowl with one of his four sons.

And it's not just in South Carolina where people know about Sanford and his transgressions over the past four years. His initial defense of his 2009 absence -- Sanford told staff he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail" (thereby ruining any actual hiking trips for married men everywhere) -- became a national story and made the then-governor a punchline for late-night comedians.

A Sanford victory puts that guy in the House Republican Conference. That means that not only do the late-night jokes start again but, more importantly, every GOPer in the House and Senate will be asked whether they support Sanford and what they think of serving with him.

That reality is why the National Republican Congressional Committee essentially washed its collective hands of Sanford once the trespassing revelations went public. The party establishment wanted (and wants) to make clear that they have nothing to do with Sanford.  It won't matter.  The narrative that Republicans have a woman problem will have new life -- with little the GOP leadership can do about it.

Yes, there is, of course, the opposite argument to be made: That losing a winnable House seat is never a good thing, no matter how many potential problems a Congressman Sanford might create for his party.

True enough. Winning is better than losing. (Statements like that are why the Fix is a Pulitzer favorite every year.)  But consider the current state of play for House Democrats: They control just 201 seats, meaning they need to pick up 17 to reclaim the majority in November 2014. A win by Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in tomorrow's special election would drop that magic number to 16.

But it's very difficult to see Colbert Busch holding the seat -- there are 119 Republicans currently in Congress that represent districts more Democratic than this one -- next November. So, Colbert Busch would be a badly endangered incumbent from the moment she won but would also, as an incumbent, command resources be spent by the national party for a race she probably couldn't win.  In short: Colbert Busch would be renting the seat for 19 months -- and the rent would be VERY high.

Seen from a national perspective then, a Sanford win could very well wind up as a tactical defeat but a strategic victory for Democrats. That's not to say they aren't trying to win -- they very much are -- but that there's much more going on than simply a "W" or an "L" here.

RGA to name Gail Gitcho communications director: The Republican Governors Association will name Gail Gitcho as its communications director today, signing a veteran aide for a busy cycle packed with 38 governor's races.

Gitcho was the communications director on Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. Prior to that, she served as Sen. Scott Brown's communications director and press secretary at the Republican National Committee, among other roles.

Gitcho is currently a senior adviser on Massachusetts Republican Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez's campaign, a capacity she will continue to work in, splitting time between Washington and Massachusetts.

“Gail is one of the top communications professionals for the Republican Party, and her wealth of experience will be an incredible addition for the RGA in the 2013-2014 election cycle,” said RGA Chairman Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. “With 38 governor’s races over the next two years, Gail’s record as an aggressive strategist and talented spokesman will serve the RGA well in promoting the successful results-oriented records of our governors.”

Escalating tensions in Syria putting pressure on Obama: Reports of Israeli airstrikes in Syria (and the threat of retaliationwill likely speed up the Obama administration's decision-making process with regard to the Syrian conflict. Officials signaled that a decision about the U.S.'s next move will come within weeks. While a troop deployment is unlikely, according to senior officials, there are other options, including providing weapons to rebel forces, and using U.S. aircraft and missiles. On Capitol Hill, even lawmakers who were reserved about increased U.S. intervention now appear to see it as inevitable.

Steve King's not running for Senate. Now what? Conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) announced late Friday he will not make a Senate bid next year, a welcome move for Republicans fearful the congressman would be a lousy general election candidate, due to his outspoken brand of conservatism. But with King out of the picture, Republicans need a candidate, and so far, the nos have been piling up. Most interesting is the case of Rep. Tom Latham, who has said no, but is worth watching in the wake of King's decision given how much enthusiasm there was for him to run -- enthusiasm that could resurface given how open the GOP field now looks. Latham sent an email to supporters before King's announcement with the subject line "I am seriously reconsidering." But the body of the email was an invitation to his annual summer picnic, and began: "After experiencing today's weather I am seriously reconsidering whether this truly is spring in Iowa. But don't fret. I have it on very good authority that summer is on the way." After King's announcement late Friday, Latham's office did not respond to a request for comment on his plans.

Fixbits:

Six months out from Election Day in Virginia's governor's race, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) leads former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe by ten points among those who say they are certain to vote, a Washington Post poll shows.

Colbert Busch has been the beneficiary of the lion's share of outside group ads. But Sanford's getting some help from Independent Women's voice, which has spent $100,000 on a print and TV ad campaign hitting the Democrat.

President Obama gave the commencement speech at Ohio State University.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) fueled presidential speculation with a swing through South Carolina.

Vice President Biden was also in South Carolina on Friday.

Benghazi will be back in the headlines this week when the House Oversight Committee hears from three witnesses, including the deputy chief of mission in Libya during last year's deadly attack, who said he thought the assault "was a terrorist attack from the get-go."

Would Biden also run for president in 2016 if Hillary Clinton makes a bid? Sure, said former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) will run for reelection in 2014, ending speculation he might challenge Sen. Mark Begich (D).

Mike Huckabee backs former South Dakota governor Mike Rounds (R) for Senate.

Ted Nugent was the feature attraction at the final day of the National Rifle Association convention in Houston. Sarah Palin got a standing O there on Friday.

Must-reads:

"Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria" -- Peter Baker, Mark Landler, David E. Sanger and Anne Barnard, New York Times

"In GOP Presidential Politics, Does Experience Matter?" -- Scott Conroy, Real Clear Politics

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Sean Sullivan | May 5, 2013