The race for Tim Scott's former congressional seat finally turned to issues Monday, as Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch met for the first — and probably only — time.

On the trail

The candidates will return to busy campaign schedules today.

Mark Sanford is scheduled to appear at the Charleston Rotary Club at 12:30 p.m., and both are expected to appear at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's barbecue at 5:30 p.m. at the Charleston Maritime Center.

They're also set to address the Goose Creek NAACP at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley Electric Cooperative, 2 Spring Hall Drive in Goose Creek.

In 75 feisty minutes, the two 1st District hopefuls sparred over federal spending, health care, education, gun control, each other's backgrounds and each other's supporters.

Colbert Busch criticized Sanford for not voting to fund the port or the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge when he last served in Congress — and criticized him for leaving the state in 2009, though her remarks created a roar in the 500-person hall, making it impossible to hear all of what she said.

Sanford asked if Colbert Busch thought he was not a good congressman, why did she give him $500 when he later ran for governor. He said her criticism of those votes — which he said was rooted in what part of the budget the money was coming from — was political, adding, “I get that it bothers her now.”

Mostly, Sanford linked her with House Democratic leaders, dozens of whom have helped raise money for her. “It really does matter how we fund our campaigns,” he said. “What it says is whose voice you will carry in Washington.”

The issues

Their encounter at The Citadel's Holliday Alumni Center marked the most substantive moment to date in a campaign that has featured Sanford's complaints about too few debates and attempts to link Colbert Busch with Pelosi.

Colbert Busch has held several public events, mostly emphasizing her themes of creating new jobs and pushing for equal pay for women and men, though she has offered relatively few details.

She served up more details Monday, including a new pledge to return 10 percent of her congressional salary to taxpayers. She also questioned why the federal government spends $150 billion on 3,100 data centers for 12 different agencies. “That's completely unnecessary,” she said.

Overall, Sanford talked about the urgency of getting the nation's financial house in order and noted he won top rankings as a fiscal conservative and taxpayer's friend both as congressman and as governor. “We're at an incredible tipping point,” he said.

The two disagreed on Sanford's decision as governor to reject federal education dollars that were part of a 2009 stimulus bill. Sanford cited it as proof of his seriousness about limiting spending — and said the stimulus didn't create the jobs that it was supposed to.

“There's something inherently wrong in thinking you can solve a problem of too much debt with more debt,” he said.

Colbert Busch said refusing that money was wrong since the S.C. Supreme Court was wrestling with whether the state provided students a minimally adequate education. “There's something inherently wrong,” she said, adding she also does not support vouchers to send students to private schools.

Sanford said he would not support the immigration compromise as currently pending, partly because he is not convinced it starts with enough enforcement to prevent more illegal immigration.

Colbert Busch indicated she would and that it's unfeasible to send 11 million illegal immigrants back home. “What that means is you pay your taxes, you pay for fines, you learn to speak English and you get in the back of the line for the pathway to citizenship,” she said.

Sanford said he did not approve of the gun control bills recently voted down in the U.S. Senate, though he supported U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's more limited background check plan.

Colbert Busch described herself as a strong Second Amendment supporter but added, “I do support expanded background checks. We have to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.”

They agreed on the incentives given to lure Boeing to South Carolina and the importance of dredging the Port of Charleston. Both expressed misgivings about the Affordable Care Act, though Sanford went furthest by saying he would try to defund it and delink health insurance with employment.

Colbert Busch said she supports changing the act in ways backed by the Chamber of Commerce and hospitals, and she supports its changes prohibiting insurers from discriminating because of gender or pre-existing conditions.

On gay marriage, Sanford said he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act but that the question should be left to states rather than the U.S. Supreme Court. “I think, at the end of the day, this whole issue of gay marriage has less to do with gay marriage than it has to do with not letting Washington decide things for us.”

Colbert Busch said she is a supporter of full equality, adding, “Quoting (former Republican Vice President) Dick Cheney, 'Freedom is freedom for everyone.' ”

The event was broadcast with some technical difficulties on C-SPAN and streamed live on several Internet sites.

Turning point

Sanford, who was once considered the favorite, saw the contest shift after news broke April 16 that he faces a May 9 court date to answer a trespassing complaint filed by his ex-wife Jenny. Sanford has said he was simply trying to watch the Super Bowl with his youngest son. That incident didn't come up Monday.

Recent polls show Colbert Busch with a slight lead, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Majority PAC and other groups are channeling more than $600,000 to help her.

While the National Republican Congressional Committee pulled its support for Sanford, others, including Gov. Nikki Haley, are beginning to rally to his side.

She is set to come to the Lowcountry on Wednesday for a private fundraiser for Sanford. FreedomWorks, which held a big debate during the GOP primary, also is spending about $10,000 on signs and door-hangers to help Sanford.

Green Party candidate Eugene Platt, who also will be on the May 7 election ballot, was not invited to Monday's debate.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.