April 29th, 2013
10:11 PM ET
9 years ago

Sharp exchanges take center stage in S.C. debate

(CNN) – As the debate between Elizabeth Colbert Busch and former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford got under way Monday, there was an elephant in the room: Would Colbert Busch mention Sanford’s infamous extramarital affair?

About halfway into the showdown, the Democratic candidate vying to represent the state’s 1st Congressional District took a swipe at the Republican and his secret 2009 trip to see his mistress in Argentina.

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“When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose,” she said sternly, looking directly at her opponent on stage.

Her supporters in the crowd burst into applause and cheers. When one of the moderators motioned for Sanford to respond, an awkward exchange ensued.

“I couldn’t hear what she said,” Sanford said, as Colbert Busch and some in the crowd began to laugh. “Repeat it. I didn’t hear. I’m sorry.”

“Answer the question,” she replied.

“What was the question?” Sanford said, smiling. He went on to talk about the forced spending cuts known in Washington as the sequester.

The debate came eight days before the May 7 special election, held to fill the seat vacated by Republican Tim Scott when he was appointed to a Senate seat held by then-Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned December 31.

Sanford is attempting to make a political comeback after the 2009 affair tarnished his reputation. His staff told reporters he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but it was later discovered he had traveled to South America to see the woman to whom he’s now engaged.

He and his then-wife, Jenny, were divorced in 2010, and Sanford finished his second term in 2011. Before running for governor in 2002, Sanford held the same congressional seat he’s now trying to reclaim for three terms.

Although the district has long been a Republican stronghold and Sanford was considered the favorite in the May election, the race seemed to shift three weeks ago when court documents showed that his ex-wife had filed complaints against Sanford for trespassing on her property. He's scheduled for a court appearance two days after the election.

Colbert Busch, the sister of satirist and talk show host Stephen Colbert, also pounced on a local issue in the debate–her first political debate ever. She highlighted Sanford’s congressional vote in 1997 against $2 million in federal funds aimed to boost traffic in Charleston Harbor. He was the only member of South Carolina’s House delegation to vote against the project.

Sanford shot back, saying his vote must not have “bothered her that much” at the time, given that she later contributed to his candidacy for governor.

“I don't think you would have written me a $500 check after I left the U.S. Congress,” he said. “I get it that it bothers her now.”

Sanford explained he was against the method of getting the money for South Carolina, not the project itself. “I was in essence against earmarks before being against earmarks was cool,” he said.

Sanford repeatedly brought up money that national Democratic groups have poured into the South Carolina race recently. As he’s done in the last week on the campaign trail, Sanford said a vote for Colbert Busch would also be a vote for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. (To make that point, Sanford debated a cardboard cutout of Pelosi last week.)

“What it says is, whose voice do you carry when you go to Washington, D.C.?” he said Monday, pointing to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that national Democratic groups have spent on the race.

Whenever Sanford mentioned Pelosi during the debate, he faced giggles and jeers from Colbert Busch supporters in the audience. One yelled, “She’s not here.”

But Colbert Busch sought to distance herself from Washington.

“I want to be very clear, Mark, nobody tells me what to do, except the people in South Carolina's first district," she said. "I am a fiscally conservative, independent tough businesswoman."

Trying to make her case, she criticized the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform that was passed by Congressional Democrats in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court last year. Colbert Busch argued there are points in the bill that are “extremely problematic,” saying it’s expensive, slashes Medicare benefits and costs jobs. But then she went on to highlight multiple provisions in the law that she favors.

In her closing remarks, she announced she would take a 10% cut from her congressional salary if elected.

The 75-minute debate was largely based on substantive disagreements, with the two debating gun control, entitlement reform, local issues, same-sex marriage and unions. Sanford’s affair came up somewhat on another occasion. He was asked by a moderator if he would vote for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment again, like he did when he was in Congress.

“I would say this: Do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake that he made in his life?” Sanford said, prompting strong cheers and applause from his supporters in the audience.

Sanford has been open about his affair on the campaign trail, making it the subject of his first campaign ad and repeatedly seeking redemption for what he describes as a mistake. He argued that the episode will make him a better congressman if elected.

“You don't go through the experience I had back in 2009 without a greater level of humility,” he said, adding that such humility will allow him to sit down with Republicans and Democrats alike to find common ground. “I think it's incredibly important to forging conclusions in Washington, D.C.”

Filed under: House • Mark Sanford • South Carolina
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    “When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose.

    “I couldn’t hear what she said,” Sanford said

    " Selective Hearing "

    April 29, 2013 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  2. S.B. Stein

    The problem that Sandford has is that Colbert-Busch isn't going to be voting the way that Pelosi wants all the time. She didn't leave the state (and the country) without notice while supposedly being in charge.

    April 29, 2013 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  3. ThinkAgain

    I hope she takes him to the cleaners next Tuesday!

    April 29, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  4. Jack

    This guy is a pathetic loser and a hypocrite. He is so against government doing anything but he's never had a job outside of government.

    April 30, 2013 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  5. J.V.Hodgson

    He cheated on his wife adultery.( AND kids.
    He cheated on the state government in money terms and time, illegally
    He cheated on the SC electorate by lying as to his whereabouts.
    He stands for a party that has very strong religion based morals and he broke many of those, and disrespects court rulings.
    I for one could never vote this guy into office again, fortunately for him I cant vote In that state.
    Off with his head ( politically) please.

    April 30, 2013 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  6. Marie MD

    I think Sanford has some little problems that are coming out and they don't make him look or sound that sane. All of that plus one of his sons not having met his mistress/fiancé until he announced his candidacy?
    Now he is coming out against background checks for terrorists and criminals. Even his own district polled in the 80s for gun control.
    I take it he is still too busy hiking the Appalachian Trail in (or on) Argentina.

    April 30, 2013 06:42 am at 6:42 am |
  7. Craig Mellor

    Two bad candidates.........no wonder this country is in the shape it is in!

    April 30, 2013 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  8. Independent Thinker

    As a South Carolinian, I am appalled that we could elect a person with such low moral values. We are a God fearing state, that is proud of its heritage. People already have stereotyped thoughts about the south, they think we are backwards, slow, and simple. Thing is we are not, our state attracts people of diversity, people who are smart, and educated. We have one of the best public universities in the nation, with the number one International Business school in the nation, and the best we can do is Mark Sanford........I think not. Ms. Colbert Busch maybe a democrat, but she is a solid business woman, with a reliable record, someone who cares about South Carolina, which is what this state needs.

    April 30, 2013 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  9. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    “When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose,”
    That's what you call putting the nail in the coffin. Senor Sanford, exit stage left.
    "Do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake that he made in his life?”
    No. There's a difference between you and Pres. Clinton though Senor Sanford. He didn't misuse taxpayer money.

    April 30, 2013 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  10. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    Senor Sanford, that wasn't a cardboard cutout you were debating last night. She's the real deal and you are toast.

    April 30, 2013 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  11. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Sounds like Mark was shooting blanks from the hip, just like his mentor – the former governor of Texas who just opened a library with no books.

    April 30, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  12. chilly g

    this guy is a slick politican and will say or do anything to get elected.

    April 30, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  13. ST

    Sanford pretended that he didn't hear the question which was asked by Ms Colbert Busch? I can cut him a bit of slack. When you debate the cardboard no sound comes from it, even if the real person is there instead, the man can not notice the difference.

    April 30, 2013 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  14. idb

    The extramarrital affair is the only thing Colbert Busch talked about. She has no other message and is therefore useless.

    April 30, 2013 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  15. vic , nashville ,tn

    The way she connect the dots amazing, fiscal spending to trip to Argentina.

    Did her brother wrote those lines

    April 30, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  16. Marcuscassius

    I was looking at the split in the ways the various papers treat Mark. the right says things like "His affair refined him. It doesn't define him." and " We're a more forgiving nation now"/ What rubbish. They only forgive theirs and then only when assured of winning. They crusify anyone on the left that falls. And there are far far fewer fallen on the left. They tend to stay home with their wives and out of airport bathrrooms cruising for other men. They don't talk church and live gutter as much. Face it, the right is corrupt and sold out. They have decimated the country and their dirt is on everything.

    April 30, 2013 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  17. The right 1 actually left

    No pun intended in the headline,I'm sure.

    April 30, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  18. dt

    I'm all for forgiveness and putting the past behind you. But why on Earth do these people think that forgiveness equates to electable? Being forgiven means people lessen their hatred towards you. It doesn't mean they like you, or that you're competent. One look at the majority of our political leaders and anyone with a brain knows MONEY gets you elected, not your ability.

    April 30, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  19. Scott

    Just another liberal Democrat that will vote which ever way the Senate tells her to. At least with Sanford you get a person that actually cares for his state, unlike Colbert who is in it for the perks and money. Anyone that votes for her needs to examine themselves. Avote for her is a vote for Pelosi.

    April 30, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  20. The Right Left

    Another GEM coming out of the GOP, woodwork. Do as I say. Don't do as I do. The GOP losing the southern states like Texas, Georgia and later north and South Carolina will be the ultimate rejection of their ideologies. Alabama and Miss will be the last to turn around.

    This GOP does not have enough place on their stage for all the losers they are gathering.

    April 30, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  21. The Real Tom Paine


    Just another liberal Democrat that will vote which ever way the Senate tells her to. At least with Sanford you get a person that actually cares for his state, unlike Colbert who is in it for the perks and money. Anyone that votes for her needs to examine themselves. Avote for her is a vote for Pelosi.
    She's taking a pay cut to run, and plans to return 10% of her salary to the Treasury. She's built a business, and hired people: Sanford has not been able to hold onto a job outside of government, so who is really in it for perks and the money? A vote for Sanford is a vote for ammoral representation, ie, Tea Party.

    April 30, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  22. lolo

    The South nor the GOP/TP party will never learn. Sanfrd looks and thinks like them so that is enough to get their votes. They keep dumbing down America. If they love dumb Sarah Palin they love Sanford also. The difference is one is a female and the other is a male, but still cut from the same cloth.

    April 30, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  23. ezduzit757

    To me, watching the expression on his son's face at that victory party when he was on stage behind his father, who had his mistress by his side, sealed the deal against this guy. Seeing the obvious pain on his son's face and knowing this guy could put his own son through this – it just showed me that he has no soul. He is not worthy of anyone's vote.

    April 30, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  24. SC

    C'mon Scott.... Stanford cares about his state? He abandoned the state in his last post and spent taxpayer money for personl use. Where does the Pelosi thing come from? Is it because she is a female democrat and tends to be the most disliked so tying your opponent to her would help? I bet Colbert-Busch has never even met her. Saying her campaign is run by unions is ridiculous. She has raised over a million and only 30K of that is from unions. I really don't see how funding less than 3% of a campaign puts you in someones pocket. And how about Sanford dodging the questions.

    Q: Would you vote to impeach Clinton again?
    A: Let me ask you....do you think Clinton shouldn't be forgiven for making a mistake?

    What?!! Nice diversion there Mark. Please go away.

    April 30, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  25. DarqueSide

    I pity the people of SC if they reelect Sanford. Having an affair is a bad thing but many people can forgive that as it is something which NORMALLY only interferes with one's personal life. Suddenly disappearing abroad (or on a broad) while on 'company time', lying about where you are/were, and doing all of this at your taxpayers' expense? It's hard to fathom the depth of this man's poor judgement and utter disregard for the people who elected him! NOW he's saying it would make him a BETTER elected official? He hasn't found humility because if he was truly humbled he would NOT be trying to be reelected! That's called hubris, not humility.

    April 30, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
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