Sanford, Not Parties, Polarizing Factor in SC 1

Time flies when you’re in a Deep South two-week special election primary runoff, and Republican voters in South Carolina’s first congressional district will choose between former Gov. Mark Sanford and former Charleston city councilmember Curtis Bostic next Tuesday. It’s been a quiet contest so far, with Sanford outstripping his rival in endorsements from the 14 candidates defeated in the primary, but mostly the low-vote-getters (third-place Larry Grooms and fourth-place Teddy Turner have yet to be heard from).

But now PPP has published a poll on SC-1, and the surprise isn’t that Sanford leads Bostic by a 53-40 margin (a result closely resembling his 55/40 favorable/unfavorable ratio among the district’s Republicans), but that Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch leads Sanford in a general-election trial heat 45-43 (and is tied with Bostic at 43%).

Before Democrats get too excited about picking off a Republican House seat, PPP notes that undecideds in the Sanford-Busch trial heat split for Romney over Obama by a 77/12 margin. So the general election will almost certainly feature a “Republican unity” effort, probably combined with negative attacks on Busch and her brother as God-mocking liberals. PPP also notes that two Republicans who are very popular in the 1st–former Rep. (now-Senator) Tim Scott and most of all Sanford’s ex-wife Jenny–could go a long way in getting Mark over the hump. You can almost see the ads featuring Jenny Sanford–“Mark did wrong, but this isn’t about me, it’s about South Carolina and the fight for limited government”–rolling out before your eyes.

Sanford’s managed to survive the first stage of his comeback, will probably survive the second next week, and then just has one more hurdle before he can allow his fiancee into the district and begin acting like his “indiscretions” are ancient history. Before you know it, he’ll probably be self-righteous as ever.

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.