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Tilting at the Wrong Windmills

The Misguided Colbert Busch Campaign

by STEVE BREYMAN

The Colbert Busch campaign against Mark Sanford in the First District of South Carolina has to be the least strategic special election of the current season. If you’ve ever given a nickel to a Democratic candidate for Congress, you’ve been bombarded in recent weeks by frantic emails pleading for your spare cash, breathlessly announcing how close the race is, and cynically playing on your fervent desire to “seriously embarrass” John Boehner and Eric Cantor. And if those messages don’t separate you from some ‘disposable’ income, the operatives behind them can’t help but remind you that, yes, Colbert Busch is “Stephen’s sister!”

Mitt Romney won the district by 18 percentage points. The district is “ruby red.” A Republican from the district served in the House for the past 32 years. “Democrats 2014,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “Left Action,” “House Majority PAC,” and the Colbert Busch campaign itself tell us that we “can’t trust” Mark Sanford, and that he’s “unfit for duty.” Duh. Sadly, Alternet and Mother Jones rented out their email lists for use by the Democrats.

One might think that Boehner and Cantor could find a better candidate than Mark Sanford. The polls as of May 3, nevertheless, have Sanford tied with Colbert Busch at 46%. Sanford’s messiness hasn’t stopped a who’s who of South Carolina and national politicians from endorsing the disgraced real estate developer (including Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Lindsay Graham, Boehner, Ron Paul, Rand Paul and Larry Flynt). Sanford held the seat from 1995-2001 before serving two terms as South Carolina Governor. While a Congressman, the Cato Institute crowned Sanford the most fiscally conservative member of the House. While In DC, Sanford joined “The Family,” that shadowy fellowship of conservative Christian lawmakers operating out of a townhouse on C Street (and that includes likeminded power players around the world, notably gay-baiting Ugandan President Museveni).

Governor Sanford could not get along with his own Republican-dominated state legislature; it routinely overrode the numerous vetoes. During his second term as governor, Sanford stupidly rejected stimulus funds from Washington with the state unemployment rate at 9.5%; the South Carolina Supreme Court forced him to reverse course and accept the funds (most of which, of course, came from taxpayers in blue states). Sanford’s life spiraled out of control after his bizarre week long disappearance in June 2009.

Sanford told his wife and children, his chief of staff, and his security detail that he’d spend the week hiking the Appalachian Trail. Instead, he jetted off to Argentina to meet his “soul mate,” Argentine former TV reporter María Belén Chapur (now his fianceé). Ambushed by a reporter at the airport upon his return, pressured by both friends and enemies with impeachment proceedings in the state legislature, and an awkward, tearful press conference or two later, Sanford admitted the affair, but did not resign.

Sanford’s wife moved out of the governor’s mansion, and divorced him. A couple months ago, in the midst of his electoral comeback, Jenny Sanford charged him with trespassing at her home for sneaking around without permission, contrary to the divorce decree to watch the Superbowl with one of their sons.

Wouldn’t it be great if Colbert Busch unseated Sanford? No. Why not? Because even if Colbert Busch beats Sanford this time, she’s sure to lose the next election. Remember Scott Brown—who took Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for a partial term—in Massachusetts. The seat reverted to a Democrat after the national Tea Party wave ebbed, and strong contender Elizabeth Warren appeared. Remember Scott Murphy, the Blue Dog Democrat appointed to Kirsten Gillibrand’s House seat following her appointment to the US Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Murphy lost at his earliest opportunity to a just-retired career Army officer, a first-time Republican candidate new to the district. Gillibrand herself only held on to the seat, through one special and one routine election, because her voting record was nearly indistinguishable from that of a Republican.

This is not to suggest that left-liberal Democrats rather than Blue Dogs ought never challenge conservative Republicans in safe seats. Democrats of any hue have structural advantages over third party challengers like Eugene Platt, the Green in the Sanford-Colbert Busch race (who was shut out of the debate and ignored by the media). Long shot challengers can raise neglected issues, educate voters, and attempt to move the discussion leftward. It’s only to say that working folks aren’t represented well by Democrats-In-Name-Only. And that Democratic Party projects like the Colbert Busch campaign are a waste of scarce resources.

The ONLY reason Republicans control the House is because their brethren back home, state legislators and governors, conspire to draw district lines that favor the GOP. Had they any strategic sense, any concern for the long-run, the various Democratic outfits hawking Colbert Busch would concentrate their/your money, time, and grassroots organizing on fighting the right-wing procedural and financial sliminess that constitutes Republican campaigns today. What are the Dems doing at this very moment to stop the well-funded Republican efforts to institute voter ID requirements, carve up the Electoral College to insure victory, protect Citizens United, forestall public financing of campaigns, and solidify winner-take-all gerrymandering across the country? Not all that much except to ask adherents to sign petitions.

Steve Breyman served as campaign treasurer for a Green Party candidate in a New York State Senate contest, and as speechwriter for a New York Green Party gubernatorial candidate. While a Common Cause/New York Board member he testified before the New York State Assembly on behalf of a nonpartisan process to draw electoral district lines, and worked for public financing of campaigns. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu