South Carolina Special Election 2013: Debate is Colbert-Busch's Chance to Close the Deal

All eyes are on South Carolina Monday night, where a debate could be the turning point in an intense special election for the state’s newly vacant House of Representatives seat.

Ever since Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) left the Senate and Congressman Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was appointed to fill his seat, both former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert-Busch (sister of popular comedian Stephen Colbert) have been eyeing the open seat in Congress. In a special election on May 7, voters in South Carolina will choose one of the two to become the state’s next Congressional representative.

The campaign has not been easy, nor has it been clean. In particular, Republican candidate Mark Sanford has alleged that Colbert-Busch is running a “stealth campaign,” refusing to clarify her stances on issues and securing funding from out-of-state parties. Stanford’s past record shows him as a man who strongly voices and stands by his opinion in office, but it also shows him as a philandering husband with loose morals. Those who find Sanford’s name familiar may recall that he inadvertently coined the euphemism “hiking the Appalachian trail” when it was discovered that he visited his mistress in Argentina during his term as governor. More recently, among other gaffes, Sanford is facing trespassing charges from his ex-wife.

For her part, Busch is new to the political game, and it is true that she is keeping her stances rather quiet. As a Democrat running in a fire-engine-red district, speaking candidly about her views would likely alienate voters, so Busch is focusing on her trustworthiness and hard-working qualities. And unlike Sanford, her past is inspiring. One of 11 children, Busch dropped out of college to take care of her family after her father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash. She later got a degree while single-handedly taking care of three kids on a minimum-wage job. Today, Busch is a successful businesswoman, but she believes in her calling as a public servant.

Monday night’s debate will be the first time the two make a joint appearance.

So far in the campaign, Busch has focused on alternative energy, veterans' affairs, and education, while Sanford has focused on debt reduction and the economy, two issues that he championed successfully as governor. The debate itself, judging by the fiscally-conservative but socially-liberal district, will likely focus on the economy, pitting Sanford’s record against Busch’s business acumen.

Beyond the issues, though, the debate will showcase Sanford’s public persona versus Busch’s ideology. Expect awkward questions about Sanford’s past, but also watch for how Colbert-Busch conducts herself onscreen (it’s her first major televised event) and how she answers pointed questions on her stances and her connections to the national Democratic party.

While this debate may be a wild card, all other signs point to a Busch victory come May 7. The Democratic National Committee is ramping up support for Busch, while their Republican counterpart has stopped vocalizing about Sanford after his recent legal charges. Busch has fundraised more (with help from her brother), she’s got the independent vote, and the most recent poll shows her with a nine-point lead.

As a South Carolinian studying in D.C., I’m pulling for Busch. I could use a job on the Hill next semester.

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Medha Chandorkar

As a junior at Georgetown University in Washington DC, I'm studying Government, Women's and Gender Studies, and Justice and Peace Studies. I'm interested in social justice issues, particularly women's rights in the developing world, and politics. Outside of school, I love dancing and reading, and I'm a huge TV / movie buff. In the future, I hope to become a lawyer but right now, I'm just focused on the moment.

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