Dead Heat in S.C.|Congressional Race

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – Former Gov. Mark Sanford was in a statistical dead heat as polls opened today in his congressional race against Elisabeth Colbert-Busch.
     Sanford, whose affair with an Argentine lover made national news, led by a statistically insignificant 47-46 percent margin this morning, according to one poll.
     Sanford, a Republican, is running against Democrat Colbert-Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, in a special election in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
     Political pundits who have flooded into the district, which encompasses a sizable portion of the South Carolina Low Country, say the race is too close to call.
     Sanford, a Libertarian-leaning Republican, had been considered presidential timber when in early June 2009 he told his staff he was embarking on a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail.
     Tipped that something else was going on, The Associated Press sought more information of the governor’s whereabouts.
     When he returned to the state capitol, the married governor admitted he’d been in Argentina with a mistress, Maria Chapur, with whom he’d been conducting an affair for more than a year. The two are now engaged to be married.
     Although he managed to hold onto his office for the remaining months of his term – paying a $74,000 fine for ethics violations – Sanford’s political career appeared to be over. Then late last year, just-re-elected U.S. Senator Jim DeMint retired to take the helm of The Heritage Foundation.
     Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott to fill DeMint’s seat, creating the vacancy in the 1at Congressional District, which Sanford represented for six years before becoming governor.
     Sanford topped a field of 19 in a March Republican primary, and handily defeated his in a runoff election held two weeks later.
     Colbert-Busch, a prominent Charleston businesswoman, surged in recent weeks with an incendiary campaign that repeatedly hammered Sanford for betraying the state’s voters by abandoning his post for his south American tryst.
     Relying on a $1 million in funding from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and tens of thousands raised by her brother through a series of fund raisers, the barrage of advertisements denounced Sanford for “betrayal of our trust.”
     Then, like manna from Heaven for the Colbert-Busch campaign, it came to light that Sanford’s ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, is hauling the former governor into family court, claiming he was repeatedly trespassed on her property in violation of their divorce decree.
     The Sanfords are due in court Thursday. Jenny Sanford has requested cameras be banned from the courtroom during the hearing.
     After the trespassing allegations came to light, the conventional wisdom held that Sanford’s campaign was reeling.
     He responded to the trespassing allegations by claiming that he visited his ex-wife’s home while she was not there so his son would not have to watch the Super Bowl by himself.
     If Sanford does win today, it will be after a campaign strategy based on attacking not Colbert-Busch, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who he claimed is trying to steal the election for the Democrats. He’s gone so far as “debating” a cardboard cutout of Pelosi at campaign events.
     As his poll numbers began to rebound last week, Sanford invites a reporter, NBC’s Ali Weinberg, to accompany him on a search for the so-called “angry woman voter” whom the Colbert-Busch campaign has courted.
     According to the online FITSnews , a daily must-read for politicos in the state, Sanford informally canvassed several women during a campaign stop in Summerville, S.C. with Weinberg in tow.
     FITSnews quoted Jason Easley of the Politicus USA blog as saying: “I can honestly say that I have never heard of a candidate approaching voters and asking them if they hate him. Sanford is exhibiting some emotionally disturbing behavior.”
     In recent days both candidates have picked up a number of endorsements. Colbert-Busch was endorsed by the Charleston Post and Courier, one of the state’s largest newspapers, and by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat and long-time Colbert family friend.
     In a Sunday editorial, the newspaper predicted Colbert-Busch would be “a savvy, energetic advocate for the coastal district, which she correctly views as an area where new opportunities for jobs, economic development and a better quality of life are just beginning to open up.”
     Sanford has been endorsed by U.S Senators Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott, Congressman and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul and his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, and, probably somewhat to his chagrin, by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who called Sanford “the sex pioneer of our time.”
     Flynt said he would donate $2,600 to the Sanford campaign, telling the Hollywood Reporter that “no one has done more to expose the sexual hypocrisy of traditional values in America today.”
     The pornographer added: “Sanford’s open embrace of his mistress in the name of love, breaking his sacred marriage vows, was an act of bravery that has drawn my support. His attack on sexual hypocrisy is the only issue in this campaign. It is what defines Mark Sanford. Placing sex at the top of the agenda, he continues his courageous fight, demanding forgiveness while brazenly hugging his mistress at campaign parties.”
     The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday that it will monitor today’s special election in South Carolina, as well as contests on Clarksdale and Ruleville, Miss.
     The polls close in South Carolina at 7 p.m.

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