MOUNT PLEASANT — Former Gov. Mark Sanford campaigned with GOP leaders while Elizabeth Colbert Busch appealed for last-minute votes as her blue and white bus rolled though South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District on Monday, their tumultuous campaigning near a close.
Sanford, a Republican, and businesswoman Colbert Busch, a Democrat and sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, face each other Tuesday in a special election for the seat Tim Scott held until his appointment to the U.S. Senate. Green Party candidate Eugene Platt also is on the ballot.
Sanford is seeking political redemption after a scandal erupted in 2009 involving the disclosure he had an Argentine mistress during his second term as governor. Now divorced, Sanford is trying to rebound from the scandal that sidelined his political career. At one point, he was being mentioned as a possible GOP presidential contender.
Colbert Busch, who over the weekend won the backing of the district’s largest newspaper, The Post and Courier of Charleston, and spent a fourth day riding through the 1st district in a campaign bus hunting for votes.
“We’re pushing this, pushing this, pushing this. We know that every single vote counts,” Colbert Busch said after mingling with supporters at a barbershop in Ladson.
Colbert Busch, 58, appeared with U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., on Sunday, the same day she was endorsed by The Post and Courier.
“For the many who suffer from Sanford Fatigue – a malady caused by overexposure to all of the cringeworthy details of his 2009 disgrace as governor, his ongoing efforts for redemption via the political process, his resurgent personal problems, etc. – Ms. Colbert Busch offers a welcome tonic,” the newspaper said.
On Monday, Sanford campaigned with former Gov. Jim Edwards, the state’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction. Sanford later planned stops with state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly.
Gov. Nikki Haley has largely stayed out of the campaign although last week attended a fundraiser at a home on Charleston’s Battery for her one-time political mentor.
“This is a battle for this country, not just a congressional race. Obama controls the Senate and now he’s fighting to control the House,” Edwards said.
Sanford said he feels momentum in what is considered a tight race has shifted his way since he met Colbert Busch in their only debate last week.
“We had a chance to talk about where we stand on the issues that either do or don’t reflect the views of the majority of the people in this district,” said Sanford, who turns 53 later this month.
The district, somewhat reconfigured from the one Sanford served for three terms in the 1990s, should be reliably Republican on paper.
But Sanford is trying to make a comeback after famously disappearing from the state for five days in 2009, when he was a married, two-term governor. He told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian trail when he was in Argentina seeing his mistress, a woman to whom he has since become engaged. Sanford ended up paying the largest ethics fine in state history, $70,000, for using public money for private travel.
While House Democrats and outside groups hammered at the behavior during the campaign, although Colbert Busch generally stayed away, with the exception of a comment during the debate and one ad running in recent weeks.
She was asked Monday whether she should have hit the issue harder and earlier.
“Our campaign is positive and optimistic. That’s the message we want,” she said. “I have no regrets.”
Colbert Busch stressed the importance of creating jobs and improving education. Sanford, as he has since his political career began two decades ago, constantly stressed the importance of getting the nation’s financial house in order.
Colbert Busch’s famous brother has helped his sister attending fundraisers. Federal campaign spending reports show Colbert Busch raised more money during the campaign, although with the money Sanford had on hand from previous campaigns, both had about the same amount to spend.
Gibbs Knotts, the chairman of the Political Science Department at the College of Charleston, said the key for both campaigns is getting their voters to the polls Tuesday in what’s expected to be a light turnout.
A Colbert Busch victory would indicate a referendum on Sanford’s past. Sanford winning, he said, would indicate voters are more concerned about what’s happening in Washington.
During the campaign, news surfaced that Sanford’s ex-wife Jenny had filed a court complaint alleging he was in her house without permission in violation of their divorce decree. Sanford must appear in court Thursday.
Sanford said he tried to get in touch with his ex-wife and was in the house so his youngest son would not have to watch the Super Bowl alone.
“At the end of the day water reaches its own level,” he said Monday, saying voters understand his explanation is different from the ex-wife’s complaint suggesting he was somehow sneaking around the house with a cell phone for a flashlight.