Yes, this is the same Sanford who disappeared from the state for five days in 2009, eventually admitting that he had traveled to Argentina to visit a woman who wasn’t his wife. (The woman in question — Maria Belen Chapur — is now Sanford’s fiancee.) And, yes, this is the same Sanford who admitted to trespassing at his ex-wife’s beach house to watch the Super Bowl with one of his sons — a revelation that led the National Republican Congressional Committee to announce publicly that it would not be spending any money on the contest.
Given all of that, how the heck is Sanford in a jump-ball race to reclaim his old coastal Carolina seat on Tuesday? It’s a confluence of partisanship, candidate skills and, well, more partisanship. Following are some of the major reasons that Sanford could win.
1. This is a Republican district. While less of a social-conservative bastion than places like the 3rd and 4th congressional districts in the Upstate, the 1st, which includes the city of Charleston as well as tony vacation spots such as Hilton Head Island, is still quite Republican.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney carried the 1st by 18 points in November. (By way of comparison, Romney won in the 4th by 26 points.) Sanford took more than 60 percent of the vote in the district in his 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial victories and held the House seat easily for three terms from 1994 to 2000.
“If Sanford were to pull it out, it would speak more to the heavy partisan undertow of the district than to any larger philosophical question about comebacks,” said Jim Hodges, the Democratic governor who Sanford upended in 2002.
2. Sanford is still a Republican. Sanford’s actions in his personal life are a major turnoff for many GOP voters in the district, but he remains far closer to their views when it comes to economic matters — the overriding issue in this and every district at the moment — than does Colbert Busch.
And Sanford is doing everything he can to play up that fact in his ads in the race. “This contest is bigger than them or me; it’s about two different visions of how we restore America and rein in Washington spending,” he says in the latest commercial, which features him speaking directly to the camera. “We have to get this right.”
The key question for Sanford is whether being right — in the eyes of the district — when it comes to fiscal issues will be enough to trump their concerns about his personal conduct. And, do doubts about Sanford’s personal life dampen the GOP base’s enthusiasm just enough to hand a win to Colbert Busch?
3. Sanford is a gifted candidate. Ever since he first ran for Congress way back in 1996, it’s been very clear to anyone who pays close attention to politics that Sanford is a naturally gifted politician. He’s a terrific communicator on television — it’s why his campaign team has had him speaking directly to the camera so much during the contest — and has a sort of folksy appeal that plays well in the district.