In Mark Sanford race, a test of how much infidelity matters in South
Voting is under way Tuesday in Charleston, S.C., where Mark Sanford (R) hopes to prevail over Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D) for a US House seat. The Republican is usually a shoo-in, but the former governor's 'Appalachian Trail' tale of infidelity raised doubts.
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"Both sides realize the important role of Republican women in this race, and right now the big story is whether Republicans are going to stay at home today," says Scott Buchanan, a political scientist at The Citadel military college in Charleston.
Democrats have poured more than $1 million, twice as much as the Sanford campaign, into the race, and Ms. Colbert Busch has appealed directly to women voters for support, much as the Democrats did in the national 2012 presidential campaign. Trying to shave away at a nine percentage point deficit in the polls, Sanford has reframed the debate, pulling statistically even with Colbert Busch in the waning days of the campaign.
Recognizing that the contest in this solidly Republican district is all about highlighting the flaws of a very vulnerable Republican, the Colbert Busch campaign has aimed its basic message – "Why would you want want to vote for this scum ball?" as Mr. Buchanan paraphrased it – at what historians call the fiscally conservative, socially moderate Southern belle, keen to remember and expunge injustice.
"I think Southern women have a history of being abused, and there remains a sense that injustice has been done in the South to women, and … that [Southern] women do not forget the recent past nor the distant past," says Bill Ferris, associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "A woman who feels she's been betrayed, or things have been done that were not right or fair, more than ever feels empowered to speak out and take appropriate action in response to that injustice. The Southern woman is a rich and complex person, and this election certainly will reflect that."
Part of that complexity played out in an ad that appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier on Sunday, paid for by a consortium of Republican women, in support of Sanford. Ms. Altman, the Republican women's federation president, signed her name to it, although she says she had her doubts about Sanford before he won the Republican primary in March and the ensuing runoff early last month.
"One of the things I tell women who say they won't vote for Mark Sanford is that I’m one of those Bible-toting, gun-toting, blonde Republican conservatives, and I live with the Scripture, which says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and ye who is without sin cast the first stone," she says in a phone interview. "Yes, there have been a lot of smart remarks, the 'Luv Guv' and such. But I'm my husband's third wife and he's my second husband, and we have a closet we don't look in. Everybody has something they wouldn't want the public to know. Everybody has sinned and gotten forgiveness."
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