BY SCHUYLER KROPF and ROBERT BEHRE
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 charged back into campaign mode Friday, hitting rival Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch for her union support and for not committing to appear with him at events.
“To date, my opponent has refused to do any joint public appearances or debate the issues for the benefit of voters in the 1st District,” Sanford said in a statement released after days of setbacks to his congressional campaign.
Only one joint forum — an April 29 event at The Citadel — has been agreed to so far. Colbert Busch has not committed to attending the joint appearances offered by other groups. Sanford also challenged her to appear with him at 15 of his events next week, but Colbert Busch’s campaign indicated she would not join him.
Colbert Busch’s camp disputed any characterization of her running a “stealth” campaign and notified the media of four public appearances today in Beaufort County. Her spokesman, James Smith, said she has “a very aggressive” schedule leading up to the May 7 election.
She deflected Sanford’s criticism of her financial support from unions by saying she is receiving backing from across the political spectrum but is not automatically beholden to any of her donors.
“If there is anyone out there who believes that a board member of the Chamber of Commerce is in the pocket of big labor or ‘Beltway Democrats,’ I have some oceanfront property in Wyoming for you,” she said in a counter statement.
Sanford had kept a low profile after a trespassing accusation related to his divorce went public this week. The National Republican Congressional Committee pulled its support from his campaign in the wake of the revelation.
But he re-emerged on the trail Friday and defended breaking his divorce decree to watch the Super Bowl with his son by saying, “You got to make a call as a dad.”
The Republican ex-governor used a radio audience to explain why he broke the agreement to watch the Feb. 3 game with his 14-year-old son inside the home of ex-wife Jenny Sanford.
“I though it was in the best interest of him as a boy,” Sanford said on WTMA-AM radio about entering her residence while she was away and without her permission. “The Super Bowl comes around once a year.”
He also acknowledged the first media reports Tuesday of his conduct that night made his conduct sound “creepy” when he was spotted by Jenny Sanford leaving through the back of the house as she returned from out of town.
He said he was not trying to sneak out of the residence, which was hers and never a part of their marriage.
“Met her, told her what had happened,” he said on the radio program, adding that he used the flashlight feature of his cellphone to illuminate a dark part of the stairs of her Sullivan’s Island residence.
During an interview with The Post and Courier afterward, Sanford declined to expand much beyond his broadcast comments.
In the radio segment, Sanford said the night started as he and his 14-year-old son were watching the first half at the home of longtime supporter Chad Walldorf, who has an annual Super Bowl party at his home, also on Sullivan’s Island.
His son didn’t like the crowd and wanted to return home to the house owned by Jenny Sanford at halftime so he could watch the rest of the game in a quieter venue, Mark Sanford said.
Jenny Sanford was out of town and he couldn’t reach her to explain their plans, so Sanford said he made a father’s decision to go inside. “You say, ‘Am I going to let him sit there and watch the game alone, or I’m going to go in and watch it with him,’ ” Sanford said.
When Jenny Sanford returned, she questioned why he was there. “She said, ‘That’s against our rules and I’m going to file something,’ ” Sanford said of the conversation. “I said, ‘That’s fair enough. You got to do whatever you got to do and we can let somebody decide.’
“I think I made the call I had to make,” and that when the reason is put into the context of potentially leaving his son alone, his explanation is valid, he said.
Jenny Sanford did not respond to an interview request Friday. But their divorce settlement includes the phrasing “both husband and wife shall live in such places as each may desire, and neither will hereafter enter into the residence of the other without the specific permission of the other.”
The couple has a May 9 appearance date scheduled in Charleston County Family Court to address the trespassing issue. Jenny Sanford’s filings say Mark Sanford has shown a history of trespassing.
He said much of the fallout is part of the complications that go with divorce.
Divorce is a commonality the two candidates have. The Sanfords divorced in 2009 after he admitted his affair with Argentine-born Maria Belen Chapur, now his fiancee. Colbert Busch also had a difficult divorce and aftermath.
She was granted a divorce from her first husband, Robert W. Legare, in August 1987. Court records show the couple continued to fight in court over unpaid child support, insurance and Legare’s visitation rights.
In November 1988, Family Court Judge Mendel Rivers Jr. issued an order saying they had “failed miserably” to resolve their differences in the children’s best interest and ordered them both confined to the Charleston County jail for 24 hours.
Their divorce file shows their issues calmed down after 1989, and she married Claus Busch four years later.
Sanford also used Friday’s radio appearance with morning host Tara Servatius to rekindle his theme that Colbert Busch would be a reliable vote for Democrats in Congress.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.