Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert now facing former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) in a race for the state's 1st Congressional District in May, has Republicans publicly expressing worries about losing the long-red seat. With her business record, a strong campaign apparatus and an ethically challenged opponent who, just years ago, was at the center of a nationally recognized sex scandal, Colbert Busch has been favored narrowly in early polling. But one Republican recently said there was another reason the party should be worried about the Democrat.
“Everybody is really concerned because she’s not a bad-looking lady," Jerry Hallman, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, told The New York Times, adding that Colbert Busch was also "a good speaker" and had "some money.”
With issues of gender already emerging at the forefront of the race, comments like this could be making Sanford cringe.
Democrats have been quick to remind voters of Sanford's mysterious disappearance in 2009 that resulted in scandal. While the governor said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail at the time, he was actually visiting his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, in Argentina. Sanford and his wife, Jenny, a popular figure in the state, later divorced. In 2012, Sanford and Chapur got engaged, and on Tuesday she made a surprise appearance at her fiance's victory party.
In a fundraising e-mail for Colbert Busch earlier this week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) jabbed Sanford for his past indiscretions.
"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," she wrote. "Fortunately, there is a strong independent woman running to give us a better alternative named Elizabeth Colbert Busch."
Other Demorats, seeing Sanford's infidelity as old news among South Carolina voters, have turned to the ethics issues arising from the scandal. An investigation in 2009 ultimately led Sanford to pay $74,000 in fines and an additional $36,000 to cover the cost of the probe, and on Wednesday, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested that would be a reliable line of attack.
With those issues already on the tip of his opponents' tongues, Sanford is expected to be treading carefully.
Republican strategist Hogan Gidley, former executive director of the South Carolina GOP, summed up Sanford's predicament in a recent interview with CNN.
"It's going to be virtually impossible for Mark Sanford to attack Colbert Busch," Gidley said. "It's extremely tricky political territory for several reasons: One, Sanford can't effectively execute an apology tour and consistently be on the attack; two, any political attack on Colbert Busch would be used against Sanford and the party as proof of a perceived 'war on women;' three, we have a huge problem right now with the women vote -- so any candidate perceived to be one who disregards women -- is going to face issues getting votes."