Coming Sunday

Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch are running distinctly different campaigns for the 1st Congressional District seat. Read how their strategies differ as they try to reach voters for the May 7 election.

Mark Sanford didn’t want to talk about his trespassing troubles Thursday, while Elizabeth Colbert Busch stole some of his playbook, focusing on jobs and the deficit.

With Sanford offering no public appearances through today, Democrat Colbert Busch visited a high-tech business incubator in downtown Charleston, sticking to her theme of job creation.

When pressed about specifics of her plan, though, Colbert Busch offered little in the way of details, instead saying the most important step is for Congress to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.

Former Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen said Colbert Busch would be well advised to stay away from any diversion in her strategy, at least while Sanford’s most recent troubles are fresh with voters.

“It’s good politics because he’s the issue in the campaign, not her,” Thigpen said.

Sanford’s campaign declined an interview request Thursday on the Family Court allegations filed by ex-wife Jenny Sanford. She contends he entered her Sullivan’s Island home on the night of the Super Bowl in violation of their divorce agreements to watch the game with one of their sons.

A statement issued by the Sanford campaign said he wanted to move past it. “He has addressed it already and we would appreciate the media respecting the family’s privacy going forward,” it read.

Other close Sanford allies also weren’t talking. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, S.C. Republican Party state Chairman Chad Connelly and Gov. Nikki Haley’s office also did not respond to interview inquiries.

But Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, whose district stretches from Columbia to Hilton Head Island, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the 16-candidate GOP primary caused a “circuit overload” for voters that helped Sanford prevail in a field where there were plenty of suitable nominees.

“At least 10 to 12 of the people would have been terrific candidates,” Wilson said. “I’m concerned about how the primary worked out. It was just so unfortunate.”

Thigpen also said the trespassing allegation added a competitive twist in a Republican-dominated district that wasn’t seen a week ago.

For instance, he said it could provide a strategic opportunity for some of those who lost out to Sanford in the primary if they stay on the sidelines or choose to become antagonistic.

“The perfect set-up for them is to have him lose and let her hold the seat for a year,” he said. “That way you get rid of Sanford and the whole thing opens up for some Republican again.”

That strategy may not work, though, among Republicans who support the party first. Sanford’s most recent challenger, former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic, has not endorsed Sanford but said he doesn’t see the trespassing charge as a significant change in the race.

Former 1st District GOP challenger Teddy Turner also said he wasn’t interested in Sanford’s personal life. “I trust that if this incident merited the attention it has received, criminal charges would have been leveled against Mark,” he said.

The local GOP said it, too, is standing behind Sanford. Joe Bustos, the newly elected chairman of the Charleston County GOP, said the party plans a volunteer blitz to help him Saturday.

“I’ve met with folks every day this week, and no one has said, ‘I’m not going to vote for Governor Sanford,’” Bustos said. “He just needs to keep working as hard as he can, and that’s what he’s doing. This was a distraction, but I just don’t see it as anything major.”

Meanwhile, Colbert Busch’s brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, announced Thursday he will return to Charleston April 27 for a fundraiser for his older sister.

That event, where tickets range from $100 to $1,500, will come two days before the only scheduled debate in the race. The election is May 7.

Additionally this week, a conservative women’s group based in Washington, D.C., started floating the idea of backing a write-in candidate for the 1st District race to thwart Mark Sanford. One name mentioned is that of his ex-wife: Jenny Sanford.

The Concerned Women Political Action Committee confirmed it was considering a write-in campaign, but it depends on whether there is local support.

CWPAC President Penny Nance issued a statement saying that both Colbert Busch and Sanford are wrong for the district.

“Colbert Busch’s view on same-sex marriage and abortion are out of sync with South Carolina’s more conservative voters, and Sanford’s candidacy is flawed, obviously. Character counts,” the statement said.

“And the people of South Carolina have no good options right now. And for that reason, if there is a write-in candidate or campaign that appears viable, CWPAC would consider supporting.”

Jenny Sanford declined a request for an interview Thursday, beyond saying Mark Sanford “needs to run his own race.”

Colbert Busch’s appearance was at the Charleston Digital Corridor’s business incubator, Flagship2.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771. Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.