Appalachian Trail not forgotten: Women voters still wary of Mark Sanford
Monday's debate in the South Carolina congressional race between former Gov. Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch underscored Sanford's problems with women voters.
After avoiding the subject for months, Elizabeth Colbert Busch finally brought up Mark Sanford's 2009 taxpayer-funded trip to Argentina "for a personal purpose" at Monday night's debate, only a week out from a May 7 special congressional election.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Colbert Busch, the sister of Comedy Central parodist Stephen Colbert and a Democrat, is up by a stunning 9 points in a district that last sent a Democrat to Congress in 1978. So the move to bring up the former governor's 2009 disappearance from office – ostensibly to hike the Appalachian Trail but in reality to visit a mistress – could speak to worries about closing the deal or to a desire to hammer the final nail in Mr. Sanford's political comeback.
Whatever the impetus, the dig struck straight at Sanford's greatest political weakness – his views about and treatment of women, and how his past and present actions play with women, who make up 55 percent of voters in the district and trend fiscally conservative but socially moderate.
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The apparent failure so far by Sanford to win over conservative women voters looms large in the contest – arguably larger than Colbert Busch's competent campaign or the broader philosophical and political issues in the race, including the debate about the federal government's role in rehabilitating the Port of Charleston.
Though oddsmakers in South Carolina generally gave Sanford, the veteran politician, the slight win in the debate, the lingering line is Colbert Busch "pressing the button to remind people why they don't like" Sanford, Professor Swers adds. "She managed to tie his lack of fiscal responsibility to the elephant in the room, his having an affair while in office and using taxpayer money to support it, which is both a violation of fiscal conservative principles that Republicans like and a violation of family values that Republicans tend to admire. Both of those things in one sentence – you can't get better than that for her."
To be sure, this special election to replace Rep. Tim Scott (R), who has filled the seat vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint, shows how far Sanford has come since crying at a press conference upon returning from Argentina in 2009, and later paying a $70,000 fine for ethics violations – the largest such fine ever levied in the Palmetto State. In late March, Sanford finished atop a 16-candidate Republican primary, then won the ensuing runoff against former Charleston County Council chairman Curtis Bostic.
But the Republican National Congressional Committee withdrew its support of Sanford earlier this month after his ex-wife filed a trespassing charge against him for violating a restraining order. Sanford took out a full-page ad explaining that he was simply visiting the house to watch the Super Bowl with his son, but the charges – which will be heard in court two days after the election – once again focused attention on Sanford's decisionmaking.