Feature

Should Republicans root for Mark Sanford to lose?

The scandal-plagued Sanford is suddenly ahead in his race against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. That's not necessarily good news for the GOP.

Mark Sanford, the scandal-stained former GOP governor of South Carolina, is gaining momentum in the last days before his Tuesday special congressional election matchup against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Sanford, who was down by nine points just two weeks ago, has edged ahead, leading 47-46 in Public Policy Polling's final survey. The last-minute news marked a potentially devastating reversal of fortunes for local Democrats, who have had high hopes that Sanford's personal baggage — a 2009 extramarital affair left his career in tatters — would help them pick up a seat in a conservative district that has been in Republican hands for years.

Losing, however, might not be so bad for Democrats. Sure, a defeat would mean "a bit of short-term pain" for the party, says Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post, but there's potential for some long-term gain. "Sanford is damaged goods." First, he acknowledged in 2009 that he went AWOL from his job to visit his mistress in Argentina, while claiming he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Then, more recently, he was accused of trespassing in his ex-wife's house to watch the Super Bowl with one of his four sons. This stuff has made Sanford a national punchline.

A Sanford victory puts that guy in the House Republican Conference. That means that not only do the late-night jokes start again but, more importantly, every GOPer in the House and Senate will be asked whether they support Sanford and what they think of serving with him. [Washington Post]

Some conservatives, however, see Sanford's turnaround less as a political pitfall and more as a sign that voters have rejected the Democratic Party's national priorities. The race "looks like it could go down to the wire," says Kyle Peterson at The American Spectator. Sanford has painted Colbert Busch "as a willing tool of Nancy Pelosi," the Dems' leader in the House. "The campaign seems to be working, and convincing GOP voters uncomfortable with Sanford's personal shortcomings to hold their noses and pull the lever anyway." It might be a stretch, then, to call it anything but a big victory for Republicans if Sanford wins.

Either way, Democrats have taken their best shot. "The fundraising arm of House Democrats and Democratic-leaning outside groups aired TV ads assailing Sanford for betraying their trust," says Ken Thomas at The Associated Press. The reality, however, is that the heart of this Charleston-area congressional district, which was left open when Tea Party favorite Tim Scott was named to fill a vacant Senate seat, belongs to the GOP. If Sanford wins, he gets a second chance, and the GOP, which has already distanced itself from Sanford by refusing to spend money in this race, gets his vote in Congress. "If Colbert Busch wins, she instantly will become one of the most endangered Democrats in the 2014 elections."

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