Mark Sanford was supposed to be a dead man walking – specifically, a long walk down the Appalachian Trail that ended in Argentina – but when the ballots were counted he crushed his Democrat opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. The unofficial vote tally had Sanford winning 54-45. He carried every county in the district.
“We gave it a heck of a fight,” Colbert Busch said in her concession speech. No, you didn’t. You were obliterated by the most beatable Republican in the House. Between campaign and independent spending, you blew upwards of $2 million, and got trounced by a candidate the National Republican Congressional Committee refused to support. You ran a weak, lazy campaign that never had much to say beyond harping on Sanford’s extramarital affair, and reminding voters that your brother is a TV star, while he threw himself furiously into shoe-leather retail politics. Sanford was still holding public events on Election Day, while you were nowhere to be found. You backed away from a crucial debate opportunity, leaving Sanford to own the stage by debating a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It’s hard to imagine how you could have fought less for the seat, short of holding all your campaign events by closed-circuit TV from your brother’s house.
Of course, it was a strongly Republican district, and Sanford did an excellent job of tying Colbert Busch to the radioactive Pelosi. That’s one reason why Democrat sneering about “family values” Republicans voting for Sanford isn’t going to get them anywhere. What could be worse for family values than giving Nancy Pelosi another vote in the House? As if the party of John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and Anthony Weiner has anything to say about “family values” to begin with. And it’s not helpful to have a nasty piece of work like Dick Harpootlian running the state Party if you’re going to peddle a “War on Women” campaign narrative.
The mythical backlash against opponents of gun control didn’t materialize to help Colbert Busch, which should only come as a surprise to those who take liberal media manipulation seriously. She took labor union money, which wasn’t going to endear her to voters in the state where unions tried to kill a Boeing plant. Between the ObamaCare disaster, the failure of their Sequester Terror efforts to cudgel more taxes out of the American people, and the gathering Benghazi storm, the Democrat Party isn’t looking its best at the moment. CNN notes that high turnout meant Republican voters didn’t stay home, and that was always Colbert Busch’s only hope for victory.
There aren’t many broadly applicable lessons to be drawn from this unusual race, beyond the bipartisan observation that hard work, solid ground-level campaign organization, and genuine political skill are under-appreciated assets – a lesson painfully learned by Republicans in any number of recent contests, including the 2012 presidential race. Also, I would imagine we’ll be hearing a lot about Nancy Pelosi in tight 2014 races.
Mark Sanford is a professional politician who has never lost a race, running a district that heavily favored his party, against a dilettante candidate who apparently thought his scandal would let her coast to victory. It’s not a shock that he won, although his margin of victory is remarkable. A better Democrat candidate might have been able to beat him, and flipping this district would have been quite a prize. Their consolation prize will be tying Sanford to the national Republican Party. His name will probably be dropped in some close 2014 races, alongside Nancy Pelosi.