Today’s South Carolina special election tells us nothing.
Here’s how the coverage of special elections in the House usually goes: In the absence of any other races, the campaign is the subject of much coverage — including by us — and mined for any nugget that might be able to tell us something important about the national political environment. (People are forever citing the Ron Lewis upset in Kentucky in 1993 as an early indicator of the 1994 GOP landslide, but that was almost 20 years ago!)
The simple truth when it comes to today’s South Carolina special election, is there’s just not much to see here.
As we’ve noted before, the race between Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch means almost nothing about the broader political zeitgeist. This is quite simply a race whose characteristics (and characters) will not be replicated in any race in 2014 or anytime soon. It’s just too unique to draw many/any broad political conclusions about.
Let’s count the ways.
1. You’ve got a former governor (Sanford) running for the House, which almost never happens. (Bill Janklow did it in South Dakota, but it’s a little different when it’s an at-large House seat.)
2. Sanford was once considered a leading potential GOP presidential candidate — all before a sex and ethics scandal derailed his career. So lots of people know him very well and have voted for him before, but he’s also got big liabilities with many of them. That’s a set of attributes that very few House candidates will ever have.
3. This is South Carolina. Put simply, comparing South Carolina to any other state is risky business. Politics is a sport in the Palmetto State to a degree that’s almost unrivaled. We contend there are more political consultants per capita in South Carolina than anywhere else in the country.
4. There are no major national issues at play. While Scott Brown’s special election win in Massachusetts had a lot to do with President Obama’s health care bill, and Kathy Hochul’s special election win in upstate New York was all about the GOP’s Medicare proposal, there has not been one major national issue at play in the Sanford-Colbert Busch race.
Yes, Sanford, has tried hard to nationalize the race by attaching Colbert Busch to Nancy Pelosi. But Republicans have been using that strategy for years now, so whether it works in this one race is kind of immaterial.
About the only national lesson we can draw from this race is that Republicans continue to struggle with nominating not-so-electable candidates. The national GOP would have much preferred a more standard-issue Republican, but yet again, Republican primary voters had another idea.
In the end, if Sanford loses in a district that Mitt Romney carried with 58 percent, it’s because of his personal problems and not much else. And if he wins it, it’s because his problems didn’t hurt him enough.
And no matter who wins it on Tuesday, the seat will almost definitely be won by a Republican — whether Sanford or someone else — in November 2014.
At which point Tuesday’s race will likely be a distant memory.
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