Mark Sanford, the disgraced former governor of South Carolina, has just won the Republican nomination for an open congressional seat there. He resigned as governor four years ago, after disappearing from office for six days. It turned out he was in Argentina with his mistress, a reporter named Maria Belen Chapur. The legislature tried to impeach him and ended up censoring him. He did not attempt to run for reelection. Sanford is now attempting a comeback, brazenly appearing with Chapur at his side to announce victory in the primary. He is prone to gaffes that keep reminding voters of his infidelity, like thanking his fiancee for her “long suffering” on the campaign. During the primary, he attacked his opponent Curtis Bostic for missing city council meetings as a councilman. Bostic missed those meetings due to his wife's cancer, so it looked like Sanford was criticizing him for taking care of his sick wife. Ouch.
Sanford was able to pull off a GOP primary win due to better name recognition than the other candidates, not because voters have forgiven him. His main challenger in the primary never sent out a mailer to voters reminding them of Sanford's infidelity. Polls show that voters will vote for an infamous candidate simply because they recognize the name, even if they can't remember anything about the candidate.
Sanford will face Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert. Stephen Colbert appeals to Republicans as much as Democrats due to his political satires on The Colbert Report that skewer both the left and the right. Democrats will be able to run a campaign directed at women that hammers the hypocrisy of Sanford's socially conservative political views while at the same time leaving his wife for his mistress.
Within hours after Sanford's victory, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York sent out a fundraising e-mail for Colbert Busch, "This is the same Mark Sanford who, as governor, disappeared from office and used taxpayer money to visit his mistress. With all the issues we are working on, we do not need him in Congress.”
Public Policy Polling came out with a poll of the general election a few days ago, showing Busch leading Sanford 47-45. When polled against socially conservative Bostic, Busch tied him at 43 percent. While Public Policy Polling is considered biased towards the left, even in a biased poll a Republican candidate with statewide name recognition like Sanford should not be polling this poorly in the general election. Republicans win races over Democrats in South Carolina by a two-to-one margin.
Republicans have a hard time attracting women voters, who have voted Democrat since Reagan was elected president. Putting Sanford up as the Republican nominee just reinforces all the negative stereotypes about Republicans as sexists who treat men better than women. It gives Democrats a chance to use their “war on women” rhetoric against the GOP.
This double standard becomes even more painfully obvious when contrasted with how South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was treated when she ran for governor. She was accused by Will Folks, the former press secretary for Mark Sanford, of having an affair with Folks. Larry Merchant, a lobbyist and consultant for one of her Republican opponents in the gubernatorial primary, also accused her of having an affair with him. A whisper campaign was started within the GOP to pressure her to drop out of the race. None of the allegations were ever proven to have a shred of credibility, and Haley said she would resign if they were.
In contrast, there appears to have been no effort to convince Sanford not to run for Congress. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has irked conservatives by throwing money into Republican primaries at the candidate they think is more “electable,” stayed out of the race. The lack of GOP opposition to Sanford is bewildering to conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who declared, “Any idiot who votes for Sanford in the runoff is working for the Obama administration.”
How much money is the Republican National Committee going to have to throw into the general election – money that would have gone to other worthy candidates – in order to salvage the race? Picture Sanford standing next to Speaker John Boehner at press conferences. The left will have a field day with those photos.
South Carolina prides itself as home to evangelicals and family values. However, its politics have proven that it is more of a good old boys club than home to conservative values. Liberal Republican Lindsey Graham is repeatedly elected to office, even though he has one of the worst Republican voting records in the Senate. The Club for Growth ranks him dead last among Republican Senators and below 12 Democrats and independents. He has been to the White House to meet with Obama more often than probably any other Republican Senator, and praises Obama for left-leaning positions like declaring a moratorium on deep-water drilling. As John McCain's closest friend in the Senate, he is solidly part of the good old boy's club. Conservative pundit Robert Stacy McCain tweeted about Sanford's win, “So, it's official now: Adultery more popular than Jesus with South Carolina Republicans.”
Republicans learned a harsh lesson last year when they put up candidates who had made far smaller mistakes in their past. Missouri Congressman Todd Akin was ahead in the polls for an open Senate seat there until he made an offhand comment about “illegitimate rape.” The GOP piled on, ensuring his defeat as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and powerful moderates in the party like Karl Rove withdrew all their financial support. Until the GOP withdrew its financial support, Akin had been tied with Democrat Clair McCaskill.
Similarly, Richard Mourdock, former treasurer of the state of Indiana, was leading the Democrat in the Indiana race for Senate until he suggested that a pregnancy resulting from rape was something “God wanted to happen.” Polling showed that women broke for Democrat challenger Joe Donnelly over Mourdock by 50 percent to 38 percent, deciding the race for Donnelly.
Sanford was considered one of the most principled, conservative governors in the country. There is something to forgiving and forgetting. However, Republicans cannot control the minds of women. Since women make up over 50 percent of the electorate, why risk losing a seat in an overwhelmingly Republican district? You'd think the GOP would have learned a lesson last year. Instead, it continues to dig a deeper hole and wonders why Republicans can't win elections. Even if Sanford is somehow able to win with the hundreds of thousands of dollars the GOP will no doubt throw at him, he will end up being an albatross around our neck.