South Carolina 1st Congressional District candidates prepare for debate, dash to finish line
In nine days, Lowcountry voters will decide who will fill Tim Scott’s former congressional seat, and both Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Republican Mark Sanford plan to dash to the finish line.
Tickets to Monday night’s 1st Congressional District Debate at the Citadel are all gone, but voters still may tune in.Webcasts are being streamed live on charleston.patch.com, countontwo.com and scetv.org. A rebroadcast is set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday on ETV World, and it will be archived at scetv.org.
Their biggest turn along the way could come Monday night, when they meet at The Citadel in the only debate in the race.
After that, the candidates are expected to crisscross the 1st Congressional District, from Beaufort to Berkeley, as the air war of TV ads gives way to the ground game of getting supporters to the polls.
“In 20 years in the maritime industry, we had this expression: ‘We are full throttle,’” Colbert Busch said campaigning last week. “And we’re going to stay completely focused on meeting with people in the district and getting them to vote on May 7 because every single vote counts.”
Sanford said he would spend the campaign’s waning days much like he spent its first few weeks, talking about the ideas he believes in.
“We’ve had a busy primary, a busy runoff,” he said referring to his March 19 and April 2 GOP contests. “We’ve had not as busy a general election as I would have liked, but that’s the way these things go. We’re going to continue to run all the way to the finish line in the same way the we started.”
Sanford, whose 20 years experience in public life has made him very much at ease on the campaign trail, has repeatedly called for more debates, to no avail.
Colbert Busch, a businesswoman who had never run for office, agreed to only one, but she said she is looking forward to it.
“I think what you will see when Mark and I are standing on the same stage, you will see an enormous difference between the two of us and an enormous difference between the two campaigns,” she said.
Her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, joined her for a fundraiser in Charleston Saturday, while Sanford made appearances in West Ashley and at the Lowcountry Festa Italiana in Summerville.
Sanford spent part of the past week “debating” a life-size poster of Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi. When he gave out his cellphone number Sunday in a full-page ad in The Post and Courier, national Democrats picked it up and sent it out via email, urging their supporters to call him. Hundreds did, to Sanford’s dismay.
“At the end of the day, campaigns ought to be about ideas, ideas that will better people’s lives in the 1st Congressional District in South Carolina,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about campaign ads or how much can we jam up the other guy’s cell phone.”
Sanford’s ad in today’s newspaper repeats his recent message that national Democrats, particularly Pelosi, are trying to buy the race.
College of Charleston political science professor Jordan Ragusa said that message is a not-so-subtle way of reminding 1st District voters — who went 3-2 Republican in last year’s presidential contest — that Colbert Busch is a Democrat.
“He knows the district’s partisanship certainly favors him,” Ragusa said of Sanford. “If he can make that simple connection in the minds of voters, I think that helps his chances.”
Southern Republicans often have tied their Democratic opponents to national Democratic leaders, such as President Bill Clinton, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Sen. Hillary Clinton, said College of Charleston professor Gibbs Knotts.
But a more important factor in the race will be which side can identify and get their supporters to the polls on May 7.
“There’s no national election to galvanize turnout,” Knotts said. “There’s no one else on the ballot. There’s no coattails.”
He said Colbert Busch appears to be targeting women voters and black voters, who don’t tend to participate as much in special elections. And he said Sanford must encourage the district’s Republican base to turn out, even if they’re disappointed with him because of a recent trespassing complaint filed against him by his ex-wife Jenny.
“Turnout is going to be super important,” Knotts said, “and I think they’ve both got some turnout challenges.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.