COLUMBIA -- South Carolina could use a good marketing campaign.

Dust her off, give her a good spit-shine and send her best face back out into the world.

She's been roughed up of late:

--Congressman shouts "You lie!" at the president.

--Governor disappears, and later confesses he was with his Argentine mistress.

--State treasurer goes to jail for using coke.

--State senator calls gubernatorial candidate a "raghead."

--Politician compares poor people to stray animals.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Chris Lamb, a communications professor at the College of Charleston, says late-night comics have feasted on it. And at the same time, he said, Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart perpetuate the Palmetto State's reputation for political miscues.

Even Lamb can't resist taking a poke at the state. "I don't think South Carolina's image has suffered at all," he said. "In fact, it's enhanced the state's image as the nation's breadbasket of laughter. South Carolina's greatest export is comedy. Our state motto should be, 'No Comic Left Behind.'

"... But what do we get out of it? It's time that South Carolina finds a way to profit economically from our boundless resource. We simply tell the rest of America that if they don't start paying a tariff on comedy coming from this state, we'll start electing serious, thoughtful politicians, and the comedians will have to find their own jokes."

Dave Clemans, creative partner at the London agency CHI&partners' New York office, recommends a good marketing campaign to change the state's image.

"People in the South feel like they're misunderstood, that the perception of them is off, as if they all ride along dirt roads and talk like they stepped off the set of 'Gone with the Wind,' " Clemans said.

Wyeth Ruthven is a director at Washington-based Qorvis Communications and long-time Democratic operative who worked for both former Gov. Jim Hodges and retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings. He said that what the state really needs is strong leadership.

"The messenger is the message," he said.

For "South Carolina expatriates" like himself, Ruthven said he wants to look for a meaning to frame the string of national headlines and put the situation in context.

"It is a matter of digging one level deeper ... to the systemic issues we are facing that have been neglected because of this merry-go-around of political scandals," he said. "I think that South Carolina is being treated as a novelty act right now."

People can view incidents like S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts' "raghead" comments as isolated incidents, Ruthven said. Larger issues like Gov. Mark Sanford traveling to Argentina or former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel going to jail give economic development interests reason for pause, he said.

"South Carolina has a lot of advantages, the port is an advantage, the technical education system is an advantage, the workforce is an advantage -- we have people ready, willing and able to work -- affordable electricity, all of those things, not only are they being obscured by these punch lines but they lack a forceful advocate of their own," Ruthven said.

"... I think bringing back some adult supervision to state government is needed."

All that's not to say South Carolina's not had a run of good news: the Gamecocks slammed UCLA for this year's college baseball championship, wind turbine technology is being developed on Charleston's coast and perhaps the granddaddy of them all -- Boeing Co. picked North Charleston to expand operations.

Shauna Heathman, owner of Charleston-based Mackenzie Image Consulting, said to build a reputation takes consistency, whether toward the good or the bad. In recent months, one controversy after another has struck, leaving no time for things to settle.

"It is compounding," she said.

Money on a marketing campaign for the state won't be well spent until the state has a plan to fix the issues that generate the negative reputation South Carolina has gained with many, Heathman said.

Clemans, the ad executive from New York City, said South Carolina brims with potential to market itself on the world stage, but folks here need to work together, instead of dragging one another down.

If South Carolina can resolve its internal problems, the jokes will go away, he said. And that goes for the South in general, he adds. "The potential is unbelievable."

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855 or ywenger@postandcourier.com.