On Monday night the hottest thing to watch on television was not The Voice or How I Met Your Mother. The most entertainment of the night came from the one and only debate in the race between Republican Mark Sanford and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, down in South Carolina.
In a race that has only gotten stranger and stranger with each passing week, the debate saw a number of issues that were stirring in the background burst forth into public. With a week to go until the special election on May 7, the debate may prove to be an explosive crescendo to a strange election.
The two verbally sparred over the course of the debate with Colbert-Busch, the current frontrunner, deciding to come in swinging rather then play it safe. The most memorable moment of the night came when the one unspoken issue of the election, Sanford's affair, got aired. Sanford was discussing his efforts to cut spending as a former governor and congressman when Colbert Busch laid down this epic burn:
This was the most direct reference of the campaign to the affair that brought down Sanford's governorship of South Carolina, had him censured by the legislature, and resulted in him being forced to pay over $70,000 for ethics violations. Curtis Bostic, Sanford's opponent during the Republican primary, did not even directly reference it during their debates.
Sanford attempted to fight back, accusing Colbert-Busch of being heavily backed by House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), pointing to hundreds of thousands of dollars of ads run on her by groups associated with Pelosi. The accusation has been one that Sanford has been using on the trail, going as far as to debate a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi to emphasize his point.
The debate was Sanford's last chance at a game changer as his fortunes has waned over the past few weeks. The National Republican Congressional Committee dropped all support of Sanford after news broke that he had court complaint against him for trespassing on his ex-wife’s, Jenny Sanford, property. And in perhaps some of the worst timing for political advertising, days after the Boston Marathon bombing the Sanford campaign released a full-page newspaper ad that explained how hard it was to be Mark Sanford and how nobody understood him.
As the special election grows even nearer, Sanford looks to be in a difficult spot. The latest poll from Public Policy Polling to come out of the race had him down 9 points, 50%-41%, to Colbert Busch. Given that the poll was released on April 22, it is possible there had been a shift in the electorate, but a 5-point swing in a week would be extraordinary. Colbert Busch is the favorite to win the race, as it appears that Sanford’s past is catching up with among voters.
Despite the seriousness that most of the media was reporting on this race, moments of levity have broken through given the bizarre twists and turns that it has taken. The latest is a billboard taken out in South Carolina by online dating service Ashley Madison, who markets to people already in a relationship.
The blog of the website also announced their endorsement of Sanford, though the Sanford campaign has yet to comment on it.
For Sanford to make it this far has been nothing short of a miracle in the political world. But for this political phoenix to truly rise from the ashes, it may take a miracle shift in polling for him to pull out an upset victory. But considering this race, stranger things have happened.