As former Gov. Mark Sanford finds himself losing ground in his campaign for a special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, he’s identified a new opponent–House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
With Republicans running away from him, Sanford made the bizarre move of appearing with a cardboard cutout this week to “debate” Pelosi–arguing that his actual May 7 opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, had agreed to only one debate.
That wasn’t the only strange move.The AP reported that his ex-wife, Jenny, had accused him of trespassing earlier this year, and national GOP groups quickly distanced themselves from Sanford. When Sanford was governor in 2009, he disappeared from the state for several days, only to later reveal he was having an affair in Argentina. Sanford and the state’s first lady, Jenny Sanford, divorced, and he’s now engaged to the Argentine woman.
Sanford took out a full-page ad Sunday in the Charleston Post & Courier to tell his side of the trespassing story, also publishing his personal cell phone number for voters to call.
But the Democratic House Majority PAC took that invitation to heart. The group has been running ads against Sanford to help Colbert Busch in the district, and in a fundraising appeal also included Sanford’s personal number.
Sanford, none too happy about the out-of-state calls he then received, decided to fight back, and his campaign released screenshots of some of the non-South Carolina numbers who had dialed him.
“It is clear that Pelosi and Friends expect something in return for their extensive investment and their efforts to personally run a race against me,” Sanford said in a statement releasing the phone numbers.
But Republicans are cringing at this as another example Sanford’s lost his way and aren’t optimistic about his chances.
“[Sanford] spent the entire campaign trying to put his past behind him, and saying that… my mistakes were over and I’ve grown,” AP’s National Political Editor Liz Sidoti said on Friday’s Daily Rundown. “So the news of the trespassing allegations, I think, really caused him to free fall.”
The special election should have been an easy one even with Sanford on the ballot. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the Charleston-based district by 18 points in 2012.
But recent polling has shown a much closer race. A survey this week from automated Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling showed Colbert Busch with a nine point lead.
Still, national Democrats privately don’t believe the margin is that significant and both sides expect the race to be much closer than Sanford’s bad press would make it seem.
Sanford did get an endorsement this week from former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whose impassioned limited-government base could well boost Sanford’s fundraising at a critical time.
In just filed Federal Election Commission finance reports, the Democrat has out-raised Sanford by a nearly two-to-one margin over the past two months. Sanford still has the narrow cash-on-hand edge, $284,000 still in the bank to Colbert Busch’s $254,000.
Sanford will finally get his wish on Monday night–he’ll faceoff with Colbert Busch herself–in person, not a cutout. We’ll have more on that in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Rundown.