As expected, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won a runoff election to face Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a House special election, but Sanford is already talking about his opponent’s brother, comedian Stephen Colbert.
The Republican Party may not be amused by the chance that a Democrat like Colbert Busch could win a district that the GOP has controlled for more than 30 years.
Currently, the Republicans have a 32-seat majority in the House, as midterm elections start to creep up for 2014. Every vote will be crucial in the next two years, as the House GOP caucus deals with budget reform and an aggressive social agenda proposed by President Obama.
But Colbert Busch and Sanford aren’t ordinary candidates, and the race should get a large amount of national attention leading up to May 7, when South Carolina voters head to the polls.
On Wednesday morning, Sanford was on a nationally televised cable talk show talking about Stephen Colbert and his sister.
"At the end of the day, Stephen Colbert's a very popular, you know, well-regarded comedian, but at the end of the day he's not on the ticket," Sanford said on MSNBC's Morning Joe talk show.
Colbert Busch hasn’t held elected office before. Sanford said he wants a debate about ideas before the election, not personalities.
“I think ultimately the debates and campaigns are decided on issues,” Sanford said.
In the next month, Colbert Busch will be the name least recognized by a national audience.
The Colbert Report has a wide following nationally, especially among younger people.
Sanford’s name recognition comes from a 2009 scandal, when he resigned as South Carolina’s governor after acknowledging an extramarital affair.
Now, Sanford is running for office on a platform of forgiveness and ideology, which is apparently making Republicans nervous at a national level.
Politico says that Sanford is expected to get significant funding in his race against Colbert Busch.
“The concern among national Republicans that Colbert Busch could steal the 1st Congressional District seat is so real that they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to shepherd the former Republican governor to victory — including dumping cash into the race,” sources told Politico.
One issue locally will be the possible endorsement of Sanford by other South Carolina Republicans. No members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation endorsed Sanford in the GOP primary race.
A national GOP operative laid out the basic problem to Politico.
“There’s a flawed Republican candidate, an interesting candidate on the other side, and it’s an unpredictable special election. You’ve got a circumstance where Republicans could lose the seat. I think if you neutralize one of those three factors, we win. If we fail to neutralize one of those factors, there’s a path to defeat,” the person said.
Colbert Busch, 58, is a former maritime industry executive who is on leave as an administrator at Clemson University to run for office. She plans to make job growth an issue in the campaign.
The Charlotte Observer reports that Colbert Busch will also run on a Republican-friendly fiscal platform, also relying on her business record, and that Colbert Busch may benefit from 2011 congressional redistricting.
And then there’s her brother, who is already taking jabs at Sanford as he raises campaign money for his sister.
Colbert rarely appears out of character in public, but he will host two big fundraisers in mid-April. An invitation to a New York event refers to Sanford as a “renowned hike-lover.”
Sanford’s absence from office for six days in 2009 was first reported as an “Appalachian Trail hiking trip” by his office. Sanford later said he was in Argentina visiting his mistress.
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