The special election in South Carolina's first congressional district between former governor Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch has been a bizarre affair, with various twists and turns that seem more in place in a comedy movie than in real life. But the strangest twist of all was revealed this Monday. On the eve of the May 7 election, it turns out that Mark Sanford may actually win despite a bizarre, scandal-ridden campaign.
The firm Public Polling Policy released a poll on Monday that showed a dramatic turnaround in the race. Marking it as too close to call, their latest projections have Sanford ahead of Colbert Busch by one point, 47-46, a statistical dead heat considering the poll's 2.8% margin of error. Considering the apparent state of the race two weeks ago, this is a stunning reversal for Sanford.
Weeks ago the idea of Sanford winning was considered an unlikely outcome. A previous poll had the race at a 50-41 lead of Colbert Busch over Sanford. Colbert Busch had a 56-31 favorable/unfavorable rating compared to Sanford's 38-56. The poll was taken after news broke that he had trespassed on the property of his ex-wife Jenny Sanford, who he divorced due to the affair he had with Argentinian journalist, María Belén Chapur. The national Republican Party abandoned him after news of the trespassing broke.
That affair saw Sanford disappear for six days, get censured by the legislature, and pay over $70,000 in ethics fines. During this current run for Congress, Sanford has been the butt of endless jokes from Hustler founder and publisher Larry Flint "endorsing" Sanford as "America's Great Sex Pioneer" to Colbert Busch burning him during their only debate last week. Sanford seemed to be little more then a humorous political punching bag.
But Sanford did not just lie down and die. He has utilized a strategy of making the race not about him versus Colbert Busch but painting her with the brush of the larger Democratic Party in Washington. In essence, instead of going local Sanford went national, doing such stunts as debating a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.). Pelosi has 24-61 favorable/unfavorable rating in the first congressional district.
The strategy seems to have worked and allowed him to close a ten-point gap in the polls in two weeks ... an incredible shift. Colbert Busch's favorability has gone to 50-44 favorable/unfavorable, a huge drop from its previous high. Meanwhile Mark Sanford's has risen to 43-54. Sanford's attempts to make this race not about him versus Colbert Busch but him versus the Democrats in Washington have resonated with a section of the electorate in the district.
The South Carolina first congressional district is inherently Republican Party turf. Its Cook Partisan Voting Index value is R+11, strongly towards Republican Party. The Republicans have held the district since 1981.
Ultimately, the winner in tomorrow's special election will come down to who has the best field organization and can turn out their base to vote. Colbert Busch needs to turn out the Democrats and the independents that support her. Sanford needs to get every possible Republican to vote.The outcome is far from clear, but one thing is for sure: rarely has a race been filled with bizarre twists and turns such as this one.