3 things 1st District candidates Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch should do at tonight’s debate

Elizabeth Colbert Busch (left) and Mark Sanford traded jabs Monday over Boeing, arguing about who is the bigger supporter of one of the Lowcountry’s greatest sources of new jobs.

Tonight, 1st Congressional District candidates Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch will debate for the first and only time before their May 7 election.

1st District debate viewing

Tonight’s debate begins at 7 p.m. Tickets to see it at The Citadel are all gone, but voters can still watch online.

We are live-blogging the debate here.

Webcasts are being streamed live on counton2.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.

Follow our live debate coverage on Twitter using the hash tag #sc1.

Their lack of debates up to now has become an issue in and of itself, but that talking point likely will fade after the two spend 75 minutes answering questions on The Citadel’s Alumni Center stage.

It’s unclear if tonight will be a game changer: The debate won’t be televised, and most of the tickets probably have been snapped up by those who already know how they plan to vote.

There are no tickets left, though interested voters may hear it on the radio or watch it streamed live over the Internet. We will live-blog it here.

Here is a list of what local political science professors say are the main tasks facing each candidate as they take the stage tonight.


Focus on issues

The 1st District is heavy Republican territory, and Sanford can benefit by focusing on issues such as the national debt, federal spending and health care — issues where most voters lean toward his views.

Doing that tonight may represent his best chance to swing momentum back to his side after news broke two weeks ago that his ex-wife, Jenny, had filed a complaint against him in Family Court.

Stay composed

During the past week on the campaign trail, Sanford has expressed varying degrees of frustration over his inability — and the media’s inability —to draw out his opponent on the issues.

How much of that frustration will he vent tonight? Given that candidates can choose how to run their own race, will further venting score political points or come across as whiny?

Address shortcomings, move on

It would be surprising if the 75-minute debate did not touch on Sanford’s rocky personal life, from his infamous trip to Argentina in 2009 to last month’s Family Court filing that indicates the drama is not completely in the past.

During his campaign so far, Sanford has managed deftly to admit his shortcomings and speak of how his lessons learned have made him a better person.

Colbert Busch

Avoid gaffes

Candidates often can declare victory after debates if they state their positions and avoid making a blooper that they must explain later or that might cast doubts on their readiness for office.

While this applies to both candidates tonight, Sanford has extensive debate experience and has had largely gaffe-free performances in the past, so this looms as a larger challenge for her.

Appear independent

Colbert Busch already has criticized Democratic President Barack Obama’s budget, a signal that she doesn’t intend to be a rubber stamp for her party.

Still, she has a fine line to walk between not alienating her Democratic base — a base that voted for Obama — while appealing to moderates who have voted for Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Tim Scott.

Talk specifics

Colbert Busch is a political newcomer whose experience lies in business, not public speaking or articulating policy. Many consider her a blank slate — with no voting record as a public official.

On the campaign trail, she has given mostly brief public speeches with few details. Tonight, she can reassure and fire up her supporters by giving substantive answers to how she would create jobs — her main issue — as well as other topics that have received little airing in the campaign so far, such as gun control and social issues.

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