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Call It a Comeback: Sanford Wins South Carolina Special Election

Mark Sanford; photo by Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford throws up his arms after casting his vote Tuesday in the special election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

In the end, it wasn’t even close.

Four years after admitting to an extramarital affair that derailed his national political prospects, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford won a special House election that will return him to the seat he once held in Congress.

“I am an imperfect man, saved by God’s grace, and one who has a conviction of the importance of doing something about spending in Washington, D.C.,” Sanford told supporters at his victory rally Tuesday night. “I am going to try to be the best congressman I could have ever been.”

Sanford, a Republican, defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch by a 54 percent to 45 percent margin in the 1st Congressional District race to replace Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate by the state’s current governor, Nikki Haley, when Sen. Jim DeMint stepped down last year to lead the Heritage Foundation.

Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, ran on a pro-business platform in what ultimately was a high turnout race.

The nearly 13,000-vote margin of victory prompted Sanford’s hometown paper to declare him “The New Comeback Kid.” The State’s Gina Smith writes:

The big victory Tuesday suggests First Congressional District voters cared more about a consistent voice for limited government and no new spending than transgressions that seemed certain to torpedo Sanford’s political career four years ago.

One voter put it simply to The State: “He’s not perfect by any means. But he’s been in office before and he did a good job for South Carolina.”

It was a race fraught with made-for-TV-headlines, allegations of trespassing and celebrity.

Colbert Busch backers will point out this was a strong Republican district that Mitt Romney captured last fall by 18 points.

But Democrats had invested plenty of time and money in Colbert Busch’s campaign, just as national Republicans wrote Sanford’s political obituary. Handicappers like friend of the NewsHour Stuart Rothenberg rated the race a tossup that tilted to the Democrat’s favor. The former governor was outspent four-to-one, and Democratic field organizers numbered at least 100 in the coastal district by Election Day. Politico has more on the spending by outside groups.

Politico’s Alex Isenstadt breaks down the reasons Sanford pulled out a win, identifying his focus on tying Colbert Busch to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a major factor:

A turning point in the race came two weeks ago, when Sanford held a mock debate with a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, implying that the California Democrat — persona non grata in conservative South Carolina — was a stand-in for his Democratic opponent.

The former governor endured days of derision from the press for the move — Mark Sanford, once regarded as a viable potential presidential candidate, was debating a piece of cardboard.

But behind the scenes, Sanford’s aides grinned: Every time a reporter put “Pelosi” and “Colbert Busch” in the same sentence, the Republican was winning. And some Democratic aides began to worry, too.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told NewsHour coordinating producer Linda J. Scott on Tuesday that Democrats were prepared for either outcome. “We’re going to win that election one way or another,” he said.

Sanford’s family drama is far from over. In fact, he’s due in court Thursday to answer his ex-wife’s accusations that he trespassed at her home on Super Bowl Sunday.

And, as The Hill’s Cameron Joseph reports, Sanford may not have the easiest time rejoining the GOP caucus nearly 13 years since he left the chamber.


In a major week for immigration reform, lawmakers filed 301 amendments to the 844-page legislation, scheduled for a markup over the next few weeks in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., alone filed 49 amendments to the bill.

The Associated Press reports that Republican senators adding to the bill “bluntly warned” the measure will fail “unless border-security provisions are greatly strengthened.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the key members of the Gang of Eight senators pushing the bipartisan plan, slammed the Heritage Foundation’s reasoning for opposing comprehensive immigration reform as a stereotype of immigrants as poor.

Roll Call’s David Drucker reports that conservatives granted a private meeting with Rubio predicted the legislation “would move significantly to the right as it proceeds toward President Barack Obama’s desk.” But advocates have reason to cheer, with some tea party activists getting on board with the reform effort.

An immigration rights lawyer and Defense of Marriage Act opposer called amendments to the immigration bill from Sen. Patrick Leahy “nothing short of a strategic master stroke,” Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner reports. The amendments would allow marriage recognition for gay couples in immigration proceedings. They would, however, be a dealbreaker for Republican supporters of reform.

Wednesday at the White House, Mr. Obama meets with national leaders representing Asian-American and Pacific Islanders about immigration reform. The president will also dine privately at the Jefferson Hotel Wednesday night with 10 House Democratic leaders, including Hoyer and Pelosi.


  • The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker writes Wednesday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become the focus of the investigation led by congressional Republicans into last year’s attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Three State Department officials are scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the events before, during and after the assault that killed four, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The NewsHour will livestream Wednesday’s hearing.

  • Mr. Obama forcefully declared Tuesday that he has “no tolerance” for sexual assault in the military. Our segment is here.

  • Delaware legalized gay marriage Tuesday after a close vote in the state Senate.

  • The AP looks at efforts to revive the background checks bill.

  • New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie addressed his weight-loss surgery at a news conference in Newark on Tuesday. “I’m doing it for my long-term health,” Christie said. “This is about being healthier for the rest of your life.”

  • Move over GreenTech Automotive. Virginia Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is now attacking Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s investment in Franklin Pellets, a renewable energy company that has yet to produce any pellets. But, according to documents obtained by the Washington Examiner, Cuccinelli signed off on a deal for storage space between the state and Franklin’s sister company last year.

  • The New York Times brings us the interactive we’ve all been waiting for: photos and descriptions of every New York state politician who’s had a scandal.

  • Reuters reports that Congress “will begin writing a new, $500 billion U.S. farm law next week … even as calls mounted for deeper cuts in farm subsidies and food stamp spending.”

  • The White House now has a chief privacy officer, a former Twitter attorney.

  • Depriving Democrats of their best chance to pick up a Republican-controlled seat, Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., announced Tuesday he will not run for retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat.

  • Former President Bill Clinton said at a forum Tuesday that speculating about his wife’s political future is a waste of time and the nation needs to be more focused on the big problems, the AP writes. “Hillary hasn’t mentioned it to me,” he said when asked about her 2016 ambitions. The question is “the worst expenditure of our time” because it prevents people from “getting into the grimy details” of the problems facing the country, Clinton said, adding that the former secretary of state is taking a role at his foundation, writing a book and “having a little fun being a private citizen for the first time in 20 years.”

  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg barely squeaks by Judge Joe Brown to land at No. 36 on the Reader’s Digest ranking of the most trusted people in America. She scored the highest among all Supreme Court justices. Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and former President Jimmy Carter are the only public officials to fare better than Ginsburg on the list.

  • Not The Onion: The Washington Post chronicles one man’s quest to lead a group of people carrying loaded rifles into Washington, D.C., on Independence Day.

  • If a veteran of the war in Afghanistan named Cole runs for Congress, radio psychic Sherry Sherry may have a career as a political handicapper.

  • Actual headline on a press release sent to us Tuesday: “Over 1K Tomatoes Delivered to House Speaker Boehner’s Office Urging Removal of Rep. Don Young.” And photos exist.

  • Christina and USA Today’s Paul Singer talk with PBS’ Media Shift about how politicians are bypassing the press to use social media.

  • Christina will be the banquet speaker at the League of Women Voters of Virginia convention next month.


  • Ray Suarez speaks to Time’s Mark Thompson about a new Pentagon report showing an increase in the official number of sexual assaults in the military.

  • Checking in with public media correspondents from around the country, Ray looks at how communities from east to west are handling sequester cuts. With the help of our public media partners, you can see how your region is affected here.

  • How did Watergate affect you? Let us know ahead of our May 17 special looking back at the scandal that changed American politics and made the NewsHour what it is today.


Katelyn Polantz and desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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