The South Carolina Race

From “Behind Mark Sanford’s turnaround,” Alex Isenstadt, Politico*:

“In Colbert Busch, Sanford was running against a rookie opponent who made some rookie mistakes. While the former governor barnstormed the district, Colbert Busch seemed to be in hiding. She rarely held public events — and when she did, she was sometimes in a hurry to leave.

“At a Chamber of Commerce forum last week, the Democrat delivered four minutes of remarks and was then hustled out of the room by a team of handlers. As baffled reporters trailed, Colbert Busch made a beeline for the parking lot.

“For a still largely unknown candidate who needed to introduce herself to voters, it was a head-scratcher of a moment.

“’I’ve never seen a candidate sprint like that,’ one reporter said at the time.

“Though she turned in a strong performance in the sole debate she agreed to, at other times Colbert Busch had difficulty articulating her positions. Any Democrat running in a conservative district has to thread the needle when it comes to talking about issues, but Colbert Busch had particular trouble. Asked in a CNN interview on Tuesday whether she would support the Manchin-Toomey gun control bill, she struggled to come up with an answer.”

Although Colbert Busch ultimately lost by about nine points, a couple of weeks ago, she seemed to have a nine-point lead.  So she decided to coast and not take any risks.  But as a newcomer and a Dem in a GOP district, she had to reassure voters that she would respect and represent their views and she had to do it with policy specifics.  Certainly House Dem leadership would have given her a pass to vote against them more often than other Dems.  She needed to make that abundantly clear, and to specify precisely where she would differ from her party.  Her vagueness really cost her and allowed Sanford to portray her as way too liberal for the district, as Nancy Pelosi’s twin.  She had to run against both Sanford and Pelosi. 

You don’t win by hiding and ducking.  If she’d presented herself aggressively and consistently as a conservative Dem who would sometimes subordinate both her own and her party’s positions to honor the wishes of her district, she would have had a better shot.  I’m thinking here of Rudy Giuliani’s second run for mayor, after he lost the first time.  He was told he couldn’t win without Upper West Side women, and he couldn’t win Upper West Side women without supporting abortion rights.  So he told them that while he personally opposed abortion, as mayor, he wouldn’t do anything to change or restrict abortion rights in the city. 

Congressmen are known as “Representative.”  Colbert Busch needed to convince South Carolina’s First District that she could be their representative, and she failed.  Maybe it was just a bridge too far for both her and the voters of her district.  

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