(Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)
As former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch prepare to battle at the polls in a special election for the state's First Congressional District seat next Tuesday, local political scientists say Sanford has been self-sabotaging a race that should have been his for the taking.
Instead, he is nine points behind Colbert Busch, the sister of TV comedian Stephen Colbert, and facing potential apathy from conservative voters due to his controversial personal life.
"I'm not ready to say that Mark Sanford won't in the end pull out a victory but I think in a sense, he has become his own worst enemy," said Bruce Ransom, a professor of political science at South Carolina's Clemson University, in an interview with The Christian Post on Monday.
Sanford is trying to mount his political comeback with a win next Tuesday after being forced out of South Carolina's Governor's Mansion in 2011 when his affair with his Argentinian mistress, to whom he is now engaged, was made public. They plan on getting married this year.
According to Ransom, voters were seemingly ready to overlook his personal indiscretions at the outset of his "apology tour" but recent trespassing charges filed by his ex-wife has reintroduced trust issues to the conversation and he might suffer the consequences particularly from women voters.
"In some quarters, in terms of his campaign, it has raised the trust issue. Colbert is using it against him in her campaign," said Ransom.
"Given what he has stood for in terms of low taxes, less regulation, small government, I think there was an inclination to say 'he made a mistake, nobody is perfect …' When this (trespassing charges) came out it raised questions in some quarters on whether or not his 'apology tour' is genuine," explained Ransom.
"A number of voters, especially female voters are saying they don't know what they're actually going to do on Election Day. But they are not gonna vote for him, or can't vote for him or it's difficult," he added.
And now, the race for the Congressional seat is more like a "jump ball" in the NBA than a slam dunk for the ex-governor, said Ransom.
Professor Gibbs Knotts, chair of the Department of Political Science at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, agreed that Sanford's personal issues had become a liability.
"Well, it's definitely a district that's set up for a Republican to win and so, I'm sure there is frustration among some Republicans," Knotts told CP on Monday.
"For Colbert Busch, her team is trying to do well and have a good turnout among African-Americans because that's a natural constituency for the Democratic Party in the South and trying to get these swing voters and women," he explained.
Due to Sanford's dramatic personal life, however, said Knotts, some voters who might normally vote Republican on the national stage might also consider Colbert Busch because of their "dissatisfaction with Sanford."
"If it was a Republican without the baggage of Sanford it would be very difficult for a Democrat to win," he said.
"My sense is that it's gonna be a close election. The last poll I saw was by the Raleigh firm, Public Policy Polling, Busch was up by eight or nine points and that's a left-leaning polling firm but they have a reputation of being pretty accurate," noted Knotts. "I'd be surprised if she is able to win by that much given the conservative nature of the district but yeah it's definitely a competitive election. Way more competitive than you would expect from the First Congressional District of South Carolina."
Highlighting that Colbert Busch is running an effective campaign and focused on the economy which is an appealing subject for constituents of the district, he said apathy could hit Sanford hard.
"I don't know for sure who's gonna win. It's hard to tell. The fear for Sanford is that conservative voters might just sit this one out. A lot of the base that a Republican candidate could normally count on to go to the polls might not turn out at the level that they would have typically and wait for the 2014 election and try to get a candidate without the baggage of someone like Sanford," he said.
"In the absence of everything else this (debate) takes on added significance because she hasn't debated," said Sanford of his opponent in one report.
"I'm really looking forward to this debate," Colbert Busch responded on Friday. "I think what you will see when Mark and I are standing on the same stage is you will see an enormous difference between the two of us and you will see an enormous difference between the two campaigns. I'm really looking forward to it."