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The Least Bad Choice

Sometimes life offers only bad choices. Such was the case in Tuesday’s special election for South Carolina’s first congressional district, where the ballot offered voters a choice of Elizabeth Colbert Busch or Mark Sanford.
The district has been reliably Republican for decades, and went for Romney by 18 points in the past presidential election, but Democrats around the country were nonetheless hopeful about their chances. Such optimism was based in part on the assumed appeal of Democratic nominee Busch, a university administrator and political neophyte with a semi-famous brother, but mostly on a widespread distaste for Republican nominee Sanford, a former governor who resigned in disgrace following the disclosure of an extra-marital affair.
Other politicians have recovered from similar shenanigans, but they were Democrats and they weren’t running in a southern Republican district. Sanford’s scandal had also included official lies about his whereabouts during one liaison with his Argentine mistress, campaign money spent on a cover-up, a seeming lack of contrition, and a widely popular wife. Although Sanford used all the right religious language about repentance and redemption, he has continued the relationship with the other woman and during the campaign he was accused by his still-angry ex-wife of violating a court order by making an unapproved visit to her home. Democrats had reason to believe that Sanford could be beaten for the first time in his career.
Their faith in Busch, on the other hand, was probably misplaced all along. Her complete lack of political experience was expected to provide a refreshing contrast to the tainted career politician, but it resulted in an ineffective strategy of dodging interviews with the press, refusing to take clear stands on such important issues as the repeal of Obamacare, and amateurish stump campaigning. Being the brother of sneering cable television comic Stephen Colbert was supposed to provide a South Carolina sort of glamour and bring in national fund-raising, but it also seems to have raised suspicions that her vaguely-stated politics were secretly as sneeringly left-wing as her more famous sibling’s. Her own arrest record from her own failed marriage many years ago was politely ignored by much of the state’s media, but word seems to have gotten out enough to do some damage.
As it turned out, Sanford won again and it wasn’t very close. The most likely explanation is that voters figured they had two bad choices so they might as well go with the one who was most loudly promising to restrain federal spending. With the only other options being a Green Party candidate who was presumably to the left of Busch or not voting at all, it seems that the voters of South Carolina’s first congressional district did the best with what they had.

— Bud Norman

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