It’s hard not to see some parallels between the Sanford-Colbert Busch race in South Carolina and last fall’s U.S. Senate contest between former Rep. Todd Akin (R) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in my home state of Missouri.

In both cases there’s a Republican male who either misspeaks or misbehaves, losing the financial support of the national Republican committee for that race, along with the respect of many in his party who have to decide whether they’ll switch to the other side and (gasp!) vote for a Democrat and a woman.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford are both running for South Carolina's 1st Congressional District seat. (Bruce Smith and Mic Smith/Associated Press) Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford are competing for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District seat. (Bruce Smith and Mic Smith/Associated Press)

In both cases, we’re talking about strongly red states with loyal Republican voters. But Sanford continues to embarrass himself long after the extramarital affair he had when he was in the governor’s office. The last straw for many was his recent charge of trespassing on his ex-wife’s property in Mount Pleasant, a friend of mine from high school told me.

Sue and Rick Buchanan live in the Charleston area so it seemed natural to get their reaction to Monday night’s debate between Sanford and Colbert Busch. I was surprised to learn that Rick, now an attorney in Charleston, and Colbert Busch are both graduates of the class of 1973 from Charleston’s Bishop England High School.

Although Rick Buchanan says he was never close to “Lulu” — as she was known in school — he does remember her having “strong leadership skills” even then. “She was very well-liked and really smart,” he told me.

Colbert Busch was the “new kid” who came into the school when most of the students had been together since grade school, he recalled. “She immediately took on leadership roles and was respected by her peers.”

Sue Buchanan said they were not able to get tickets to Monday’s debate at the Citadel, but she did try to watch it streamed live and read the news reports. Sanford made at least six references to Nancy Pelosi during the “75 feisty minutes,” according to the Charleston Post-Courier, and had even rehearsed for the event by arguing against a cardboard cutout of the House minority leader.

“I’m sick of hearing about Nancy Pelosi,” Sue said. “You know, when you get a call to support Sanford, you’re asked if you want to vote for Nancy Pelosi. That’s how they refer to Colbert Busch.”

During the debate, Sanford asked, “Do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake that he made in his life?” But I would argue that Clinton did not leave his wife and daughter for Monica Lewinsky; Sanford has divorced his wife and is engaged to his girlfriend whom he visited in Argentina when he said he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

Despite Sanford’s efforts — and Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is holding a fundraiser for him Wednesday — Colbert Busch leads in the polls so far for the special election on May 7 to replace Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate.

“She [Colbert Busch] has overcome tragedies in her life, handled herself with dignity, and she has an impressive business background,” Rick said. “We think she is the best candidate and we will both be voting for her.”

I can’t help but recall the dinner we shared with the Buchanans and their two grade-school age sons at a Charleston seafood restaurant in the fall of 1996. The adults sat at one booth, the kids at another. Suddenly, we heard “Bob Dole” mentioned by my 4-year-old daughter, who’d recently attended a campaign rally with us in Kansas for the senator’s last bid at the presidency.

We all laughed; we all supported Dole at the time. But the Republican Party has changed in the last 17 years, and from what I’ve seen: Mark Sanford is no Bob Dole.

He’s no Bill Clinton, either.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.