Sanford, Colbert Busch spar in South Carolina


There’s only a week remaining in South Carolina’s closely watched U.S. House special election, pitting Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D) and former Gov. Mark Sanford (R), and last night the two met for their first and only debate. Most of the exchanges were fairly predictable, but there was an elephant in the room.

As Charleston’s The State newspaper explained, Colbert Busch portrayed Sanford as a dishonest job-killer who voted against the dredging of the Charleston port, while Sanford characterized Colbert Busch as a wishy-washy union-backer who enjoys Nancy Pelosi’s support.

But if the pre-debate commentary was any indication, many observers simply wanted to know one thing: would Colbert Busch bring up the issue? (The issue is the fact that the former governor ran as a “family-values conservative” who was then caught cheating on his wife, lying to the public, misusing public funds, and violating state ethics guidelines.)

Only one reference was made to Sanford’s 2009 admission to an extramarital affair.

Answering a question about spending, Colbert Busch referenced Sanford’s surprise absence from the state in June 2009 during which he visited his Argentinian lover, now his fiancée.

“When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn’t mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose,” Colbert Busch said.

“She went there, Gov. Sanford,” said the debate’s moderator.

The Republican dodged the issue, saying he “couldn’t hear what she said.” He then quickly added, “Ok, but anyway, ah ah, on the sequester, I’ll go back to the sequester…”

There were no references to Sanford’s other lingering personal problem – the fact that he was caught trespassing at his ex-wife’s house, and will soon have to explain himself in court.

Also of interest, Colbert Busch was asked about marriage equality and the Defense of Marriage Act, and despite this being a conservative district, she took the progressive position. Indeed, she endorsed former Vice President Dick Cheney’s line and said, “Freedom means freedom for everyone.”

As for her support from unions, Democrats, and progressive groups, Colbert Busch also draw applause for declaring, “Nobody tells me what to do except the people of South Carolina’s first district.”

All things considered, the Democrat may have entered the race as an underdog, but she certainly held her own last night. Colbert Busch is a first-time candidate, participating in her first-ever debate, going up against a former congressman and former two-term governor who very nearly ran for president. Sanford benefited from his experience last night – he was polished and prepared – but at a minimum, Colbert Busch held her own.

Mark Sanford, South Carolina and Elizabeth Colbert Busch

Sanford, Colbert Busch spar in South Carolina