Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford adopted a surprisingly centrist tone in his general election debate against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch – distancing himself from free market reforms like parental choice while touting his support for taxpayer-funded economic development efforts.
He also trumpeted his 2006 endorsement from the Sierra Club, which he proudly referred to as “hardly a Republican organization.”
Meanwhile an energetic Colbert-Busch – who came off as polished if not completely prepared for her first political debate – tried to shed her liberal roots by appealing to conservative positions on right-to-work issues and the Second Amendment.
“We have go to come to the middle, we have got to be reasonable with one another, we have got to reach across the aisle,” Colbert-Busch said to thunderous applause from a Democratic-leaning crowd.
Dominating the debate, however, was Sanford’s insistence that Colbert-Busch would be beholden to the left-leaning special interests bankrolling her campaign to the tune of more than $1 million. It’s a line of attack that’s absolutely central to Sanford’s candidacy – which saw its slim lead turn into a nine-point deficit following recent trespassing allegations made by his ex-wife’s attorneys.
“What (the special interest money) says is ‘whose voice will you carry to Washington, D.C.?'” Sanford said. “Will it be Nancy Pelosi’s voice? Will it be labor unions’ voice?”
“I am proud to support and live in a right-to-work state, and I am proud of everyone who has supported me,” Colbert-Busch fired back.
Repeatedly, Colbert-Busch told Sanford the only pledge she signed was one promising to do her best on behalf of the voters of the first district.
“I’m going to represent everybody, Mark,” she told Sanford.
Sanford refused to let the issue die, though.
“I wanna represent everybody but I don’t want to represent the union that’s trying to shut down Boeing,” Sanford said, referring to efforts by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to shutter aircraft manufacturer’s North Charleston, S.C. facility.
Sanford’s fawning over Boeing earned him applause from the small but vocal contingent of “Republicans” attending the debate – but it also opened him up to allegations of hypocrisy. And rightly so. In fact Sanford failed miserably in his effort to explain how approving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of incentives for Boeing wasn’t the same thing as “picking winners and losers in the economy,” something the ex-governor has repeatedly said he opposes.
“You do go after the elephants,” Sanford said, referring to large-scale economic development projects. “And we did that.”
Not surprisingly, Sanford found a willing ally in his Democratic opponent for such taxpayer-funded economic development efforts.
“Incentives are very important in economic development,” Colbert-Busch said. “I’m a supporter of incentives to bring companies here.”
Obviously neither candidate mentioned the shifting, elevated tax burden associated with the doling out of such incentives.
Sanford was most defensive when Colbert-Busch expressed her opposition to expanded parental choice. Rather than outlining the benefits of choice legislation that he supported throughout his two terms as governor, Sanford instead chose to highlight his support for increased funding for government-run schools – which he referred to as the “underpinning” of the state’s education system.
“We increased the base student cost every year I was governor,” Sanford said.
This website’s founding editor – who spent two-and-a-half years as Sanford’s press secretary – was flabbergasted.
“Who the fuck is this crony capitalist, big government backer masquerading as Mark Sanford tonight???” he tweeted. “Very disappointing.”