Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Mark Sanford courting the black vote in 1st District race
As the theme from “Shaft” plays in the background, an announcer warns that “they” have been passing laws requiring photo ID to vote, reducing early voting days and “even trying to overturn the Voting Rights Act.”
The black vote in S.C.’s 1st District
County Registered % blackBeaufort 100,732 18.4Berkeley 90,301 26.6Charleston 186,482 20.5Colleton 872 0.2Dorchester 75,503 22.0Note: Registered voters include only those in the 1st Congressional District.Source: scvotes.org
The 60-second radio ad, which aired this month, was a rare appeal in an important battleground in the upcoming 1st Congressional District race: the black vote.
The Lowcountry district is largely white, but more than 22 percent of its registered voters are black.
Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch needs to energize as many of those voters as possible if she hopes to beat Republican Mark Sanford.
Trevino Turner, 41, who lives in Ardmore just a few blocks from Colbert Busch’s West Ashley campaign office, said he plans to vote for her on May 7, but his reasoning reflects more on Sanford’s record than on hers.
“I just can’t get behind a guy who has cheated on his wife and family,” he said.
In his neighborhood, “For Sale” signs vastly outnumber signs for either candidate. “I don’t think people are really aware of (the election), actually,” he said.
Though Turner considers himself independent, black voters overall form an important bloc in the South Carolina Democratic base.
A recent Public Policy Polling survey found Colbert Busch winning about 75 percent of the black vote, compared with 19 percent for Sanford. And 80 percent of black voters consider her favorably, while 72 percent look at Sanford unfavorably. Overall, the poll, which has a 3.5 percent margin of error and is considered Democratic-leaning, gave her a 51 percent to 40 percent lead among all voters.
It’s a challenge to reach many black voters during “off” election times, such as the upcoming special election, said Scott Buchanan, a political science professor at The Citadel.
“Colbert Busch still needs the black vote overwhelmingly, and she will get it based on how Democrats have performed in recent elections in South Carolina,” he said. “The bad news for her or any Democrat running in a special election is black voters don’t typically vote in large numbers when it comes to special elections.”
That’s one reason for Colbert Busch’s radio ad, which begins by attacking Republican voting efforts but proceeds to bash Sanford himself.
“He cut education. He cut job training. He cut health care,” it says, “and then he took a hike on the people of South Carolina.”
Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer criticized the ad, saying Colbert Busch “hides behind a negative radio ad with some very unfortunate overtones.”
Sawyer also said Sanford has a great record of reaching out to minorities. As governor he appointed more blacks to his Cabinet than any of his predecessors, and he issued a formal apology for the state’s role in the Orangeburg Massacre, a 1968 civil rights protest in which state troopers shot into a crowd and killed three black students.
Ben Frasier, a black candidate Colbert Busch defeated in the Democratic primary, has since endorsed Sanford. The perennial candidate drew only 4 percent of the vote.
Sanford and Colbert Busch have agreed to participate April 30 in a forum sponsored by the Goose Creek NAACP.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a black Charleston Democrat who considered running for the 1st District seat, praised Colbert Busch’s campaign so far.
“What I like about her style is she’s not only preaching jobs for the 1st Congressional District,” he said, “she’s also preaching education.” Gilliard added, however, that it’s more important that she focus on the women’s vote.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP, said she has seen a recent push to get people out to vote in the black community.
“This is the most difficult time, when it’s not the regular election,” she said.
Reaching black voters is complicated in part because many Lowcountry black voters are ineligible to vote May 7 because some of them are in the 6th Congressional District, a seat held by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
Scott said the lines are gerrymandered and confusing. “Before they did the (2012) redistricting in North Charleston, I was in Tim Scott’s district,” Scott said. “They took me out.”
Tim Scott (no relation to Dot Scott) held the seat until January, when he was sworn in as a U.S. senator. That created the current vacancy.
While many Charleston-area black voters are in the 6th District, the 1st District has almost 100,000 black voters across its five counties. The 6th District has fewer than 68,000 black voters in those same counties.
Colbert Busch is campaigning today at a major institution in the Lowcountry black community: Burke High School. But the 5:30 p.m. event’s theme is a rally for women voters, not black voters.
Buchanan said there’s a tricky aspect to Colbert Busch’s effort to appeal to her party’s black base — she must be careful that such efforts don’t turn off moderate white voters, who also are key to her success.
“It’s sort of the definition of a Catch-22,” he said. “She’s in a difficult position either way that you look at it.”