Just imagine a lovely spring day, it’s 72 degrees, zero humidity, and a warm sun is shining down on you in Charleston, S.C. Instead of tooling around in the golf cart with the dogs in tow, I’m covering what I’m calling the “southern clown show,” a.k.a a special Congressional election down here in the Palmetto state, filled with scandal, comedy, and marital infidelity.
Since Republican Governor Nikki Haley appointed Republican Rep. Tim Scott to fill former Senator Jim DeMint’s open Senate seat, we’ve been abuzz down here on who was going to replace Scott. Enter the clown on stage right: former Republican Governor Mark Sanford. As if that’s not enough, enter stage left the older sister of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert: Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. These two candidates have thrown it all at each other these last few months. And the press, well we’ve been simply transfixed.
NOTE: This column was originally posted at msnbc.com on May 8, 2013.
So what happened Tuesday in this race where Rep.-Elect Sanford won with 54% of the vote?
I have said over and over again that women rule the world. Women decide every election, including this one, and the First District down here in the low country of South Carolina is filled with women of every size, shape, stripe, and color known to man. These are women who empathize with Mark Sanford’s ex-wife Jenny. She’s strong, has great business and political instincts, and is hyper-protective of her family.
But here’s the rub: I said on Tuesday’s The Cycle that South Carolina is “a state filled with sinners that love redemption,” which explains how Sanford won with such a margin.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch in theory could have won this race. But the reason Sanford prevailed is due to a couple of factors. First and foremost, the First District is overwhelmingly Republican. It’s so GOP that even 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney won this district by 18 points. Any Republican, every Republican, should win this place in a cakewalk. And last night, Sanford clearly convinced enough of his base that he was sorry for what he did to his family and his constituents to be returned to office.
I’ll be honest in that I thought enough women would defect to Colbert Busch to win. But then reality hit at dinner last night with friends. An elegant Charleston woman stopped by our table to say hi and asked in her Southern drawl “Anybody know who won?” When we told her Sanford had, she said “Oh thank Gawd! I just can’t imagine a Democrat representing me with that evil Nancy Pelosi.”
That’s when the Tea Party element of our fine meal showed up and reared its ugly head. While most people under thirty voted with Colbert Busch, the older generations have such a deep hatred for all things Washington, D.C. that they held their noses and voted for a deadbeat-dad, philandering, womanizing, lying cheat. This Tea Party fringe element of the Republican party is as pervasive as ever before.
So here’s the key: Charleston and the South Carolina Low Country are hotbeds for rebels. The Civil War literally started right here in our harbor. So we have a long and storied history of rebelling against government intrusion and overreach. What was deemed as a close race all day came out to be a big win for Sanford, an act of redemption. In the end, though, this race doesn’t signify much. Yes, the “comeback kid” won in a Republican district but he is number 435 in the House of Representatives, literally in the back of the House. He was a thorn in the side of his party back when he represented much of the First District in the 1990′s and he has pledged to be just as prickly up in Washington. And they own Mark Sanford now, bruised, battered and victorious.
As for Colbert Busch, she raised a ton of money and proved she can run a race in a GOP district competitively. The million dollar question now is, can Elizabeth Colbert Busch run statewide in a state that is beginning to show certain shades of purple and light blue? That remains to be seen but hey, I’ve always been drawn to strong Southern women and South Carolina has a very famous one now.