Sanford and Colbert-Busch Go Head-to-Head in Only Debate

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April 30, 2013

South Carolina

By Andy Marshall

Charleston, South Carolina: Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert-Busch faced off on Monday in their only televised debate, eight days ahead of the May 7 special election for South Carolina's First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The lively debate was held at the Citadel and sponsored by AOL's Patch. Republican Sanford repeatedly attacked the national leadership and policies of the Democratic Party by linking Colbert-Busch with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Colbert-Busch asserted her independence and also took a jab at the scandal which overshadowed Sanford's last days in office.[1]

Sanford frequently alleged that, as a Democrat, Colbert-Busch would be doing the bidding of Pelosi and the national Democratic Party. He claimed, "With all due respect to Nancy Pelosi, whose name I will raise again ... it all goes back to her and others."[2] As she has throughtout the campaign, Colbert-Busch insisted that she would be an independent advocate. At one point in the debate, she said, "I want to be very clear, Mark. No one tells me what do, except for the people of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District."[3]

The fallout from Sanford's June 2009 trip to Argentina for an extramarital affair, admitted by the governor in a bizarre press conference after his staff had told reporters he was unavailable for several days while he hiked the Appalachian Trail, continues to affect his political comeback. In her most open mention of the scandal during the debate, Colbert-Busch said, "When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take the money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose." In response, Sanford claimed he did not hear her comment and requested that she repeat it, which she did not.[4] Sanford's affair and subsequent divorce were back in the news in the campaign's final days after the leaking of sealed court documents which alleged that he had trepassed on ex-wife Jenny Sanford's property in February. Sanford explained the allegations as the result of him going to visit his son to watch the Super Bowl together when his ex-wife was out of town, but the negative publicity damaged his campaign. In a major blow, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that it would no longer be spending money to support Sanford's campaign.[5]

Trailing by as many as 9 points in the polls, Sanford wanted more debates, but Colbert-Busch turned down other invitations. The ex-governor debated a cardboard cutout of Pelosi in the week leading up to the debate to highlight his opponent's refusal to debate more.[6] The only other ballot-qualified candidate in the race, Eugene Platt of the Green Party, was not invited to the debate. Debate sponsor Patch followed the same guidelines used by the Commission on Presidential Debates, inviting only candidates polling at 15% or above. Platt had requested to be included in the debate and in an email to S.C. Patch Political Director Shawn Drury argued that "the point, however, is not what you may have the legal right to do, but rather the moral and ethical right to do."[7]

Sanford emerged as the Republican nominee after beating former Charleston City Council member Curtis Bostic in the April 2 Republican primary run-off. Sanford was first of 16 Republicans in the March 19 primary but fell well short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off, thus triggering the showdown with Bostic. Colbert-Busch, a Clemson University administrator and the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, easily won the March 19 Democratic primary. The winner of the May 7 general election will fill the First District seat vacated by Tim Scott. Scott was appointed by Governor Nikki Haley to fill the remainder of U.S. Senator Jim DeMint's term after the latter resigned to become president of the Heritage Foundation.

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