How Both Sides Might Spin a Sanford Win

A new PPP survey appears to confirm the buzz from SC-1: after being down nine points to Elizabeth Colbert Busch two weeks ago, Mark Sanford has pulled even or perhaps ahead on the eve of the special election. Here’s PPP’s simple analysis:

Sanford has gotten back into the race by nationalizing it and painting Colbert Busch as a liberal. A plurality of voters in the district- 47%- say they think Colbert Busch is a liberal compared to 43% who characterize her as ideologically ‘about right.’ Colbert Busch’s favorability rating has dropped a net 19 points compared to 2 weeks ago, from +25 then at 56/31 to +6 now at 50/44.

While Colbert Busch is seen as too liberal, 48% of voters think that Sanford’s views are ‘about right’ on the issues compared to just 38% who see him as too conservative. Sanford’s also seen some repair to his image over the course of the campaign. Although he’s still unpopular, sporting a -11 net favorability rating at 43/54, that’s up a net 13 points from our first poll in March when he was at 34/58.

If Sanford does win, you can bet conservatives will spin his victory as demonstrating the wonder-working power of ideology: even Mark Sanford, a man who has worked very hard to maintain his image as the epitome of the narcissistic politician, is able to beat a strong and well-funded opponent by pointing a trembling finger at her and shouting: Liberal! Liberal! Liberal!

WaPo’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan offer Democrats a counter-argument for why they are the ultimate winners if their candidate in SC-1 loses:

[I]t’s not just in South Carolina where people know about Sanford and his transgressions over the past four years. His initial defense of his 2009 absence — Sanford told staff he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” (thereby ruining any actual hiking trips for married men everywhere) — became a national story and made the then-governor a punchline for late-night comedians.

A Sanford victory puts that guy in the House Republican Conference. That means that not only do the late-night jokes start again but, more importantly, every GOPer in the House and Senate will be asked whether they support Sanford and what they think of serving with him.

Maybe. On the one hand, GOPers would have an easy answer to questions about Sanford: the voters of his district sent him back to Washington, warts and all. But that won’t keep Democrats from using Sanford’s example in parts of the country where his ideology isn’t much more popular than his marital record; after all, Sanford himself seems to have benefitted from campaigning endlessly against Nancy Pelosi. Maybe in California or Maine or Michigan some Democrat challenging a Republican House incumbent who is refusing to debate will set up a cardboard outline of Mark Sanford and tear him a new one.

First let’s see what happens tomorrow night. The one almost certain winner will be Sanford’s fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur. If he wins despite her surprise appearance at Sanford’s Republican runoff victory party last month, which appears to have enraged Jenny Sanford into a thinly disguised campaign to kill him politically once and for all, Chapur can certainly go totally public once the votes are counted. And if he loses, the spotlight will go away, probably for good.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.