Sanford beats Colbert Busch for House seat in South Carolina election

Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R) speaks to the "CBS This Morning" co-hosts about winning South Carolina's Congressional election against Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford will return to his old seat in the House of Representatives after a winning a special election in the state’s first congressional district Tuesday. The Republican won 54 percent of the vote, while his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, took 45 percent. Sanford ran a more aggressive campaign, Karen Tumulty reports:

Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, had run a campaign in the cautious style of an incumbent — surrounded by handlers, holding comparatively few public events, agreeing to only one debate and offering few specifics on issues.

Sanford, on the other hand, ran the scrappy race of a challenger, even though most voters in this district had seen his name on five previous ballots.

The contrast was evident right up to Election Day. Sanford packed his schedule with 11 appearances, dashing to spots that included a grocery store, an auto parts dealer, a farmers market, a bakery and half a dozen restaurants. Colbert Busch made just one — to vote — before heading to her election night party. Her aides said she was making telephone calls to get out the vote. (Read the full article here.)

To win, Sanford had to overcome a funding disadvantage and his own scandalous history, Rachel Weiner writes:

Mitt Romney won this district by 18 points last fall, but Sanford’s personal history made the seat competitive. Democrats poured money into the race while national Republicans abandoned their candidate, giving Colbert Busch a 5-to-1 advantage in outside spending.

Those ads, and Colbert Busch herself, made an issue out of Sanford’s 2009 disappearance to be with his Argentinean mistress, which led to an ethics investigation into his travel.

In spite of that cash and a trespassing complaint filed by Sanford’s ex-wife before the election, he was gaining momentum. Throughout the race he tied Colbert Busch to national Democrats and emphasized his own fiscal conservatism, an ultimately successful strategy. (Continue reading here.)

Sanford also has a capable team of advisers to thank for his victory, according to Chris Cillizza:

In the closing weeks, Sanford started to listen to his consultants again — Jason Miller doing ads and general strategy, Jan van Lohuizen doing polling, Jon Kohan as campaign manager and Joel Sawyer as communications adviser — and re-focused his message to one about Colbert Busch’s ties to national Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

That message, as Sanford himself acknowledged Tuesday, was what led him back from near-certain political destruction. Wrangling a candidate like Sanford, who has seen a lot of success in his political life and tends to think he is his own best adviser, isn’t easy but his campaign team did it — and deserve a ton of credit.

(Also worth noting that Sanford’s team, knowing that grassroots energy within the GOP base for him might be a problem, put together an extensive voter identification and turnout program that quite clearly worked.) (Read the complete analysis here.)

Sanford’s fiancee and former mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, attended his victory party Tuesday night in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Writing for On Faith, Robert P. Jones observes that voters’ willingness to look past Sanford and Chapur’s affair bodes well for former congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner is reportedly thinking about running in New York’s mayoral election this year:

A survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in June 2011, in the midst of the scandal that ended with Weiner’s resignation, shows that Sanford’s path to redemption among his Republican constituents was much steeper than Weiner’s will be, if he chooses to run. . .

Sanford, running for reelection in a deeply conservative district, had a higher bar to clear when it came to voters’ expectations about integrity and sexual morality. Neither Republicans nor Democrats give politicians a free pass when it comes to lying or infidelity, but more than 8-in-10 (82 percent) Republicans agree that an elected official who lies to cover up an immoral sexual act should resign, compared to less than two-thirds (64 percent) of Democrats. Similarly, 7-in-10 (70 percent) Republicans agree that an elected official who cheats on his wife should resign, compared to less than 6-in-10 (59 percent) Democrats. (Read the rest here.)

For a look back at Sanford’s career in politics, visit The Fix.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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