Ask Aaron: The Sanford-Colbert Busch special election

May 07, 2013

Join Aaron Blake in his new weekly Post Politics live chat as he discusses the Sanford-Colbert Busch special election with readers. Aaron will take your questions on other issues - from the nitty-gritty details of a political race to what music he's listening to this week.

Submit questions and comments for Aaron to respond to now.

Hello and welcome to the inaugural "Ask Aaron" live chat!

Today's topic is the Sanford-Colbert Busch race in South Carolina, which voters are deciding even as we speak (type?).

But I would be remiss if I didn't take a little time at the outset to wish my lovely and talented wife, Danielle, a happy 2nd anniversary. I love you, D.

And with that, let's talk politics!

As with The Fix's weekly live chats, anything is fair game. Just don't expect me to be as up to speed on the indie music scene and Battlestar Galactica (or "BSG" as The Fix Boss ever-so-nerdily calls it).

Here we go...

Is Sanford really regaining lost ground, and why is that?

It's so hard to tell in a special election, but all indications are that it's Sanford with the momentum right now. My suspicion is that it has less to do with Sanford than it has to do with Colbert Busch losing her bump after controversy over him trespassing on his wife's property.

As we've learned with every political scandal, the passage of time is the best antidote for personal foibles. And the news of Sanford's trespassing complaint just might have happened a little too early -- with little else to keep the Sanford-as-unfit-for-office storyline going.

Why are so many voters ignoring Sanford's marital discretion plus lying and misuse of public funds?

They aren't. The fact is that, without that stuff, this wouldn't be a close race.

It's a matter of how badly it is hurting him and how many voters are actually up for grabs. We live in such a polarized political environment that it's just very hard for a Democrat to win 50 percent-plus-one in this district (58 percent Romney). There quite simply aren't enough voters who are willing to vote Democratic.

Indeed, it would be the reddest House district held by a Democrat. That should tell you that he is indeed paying a significant price.

what music are you listening to this week?

Alas, unlike The Fix, I can't listen to music and write at the same time -- unless it's instrumental. Any ideas for me?

Who will want to work with him when he gets back to Congress? Tea Party Republicans? Anyone?

I think we're being short-sighted if we don't think Sanford can still recover his good name to some degree. If he's in the House, he will have allies who are on the same page politically with him -- many of them in the tea party.

The challenge for him would be preventing another personal problem that would totally marginalize him politically. I'm not sure he's capable of that at this point.

Was he under for surgery? Did his Lt.-Gov. know? I mean, what would've happened if something went horribly wrong and the public didn't even know he was in the hospital?

As far as I can tell, this was a pretty brief, non-invasive outpatient procedure, far less involved than gastric bypass, for example. It has a better long-term track record for losing weight and keeping it off, but the weight doesn't come off as quickly.

My colleague Lenny Bernstein has a lot of great medical background on the procedure in our Post Politics piece:

How could anyone other than a Heat fan not root for the Bulls?

Two words: Joakim Noah.

Biggest celebrity crush now and growing up? And you can't say Connie Britton.

As much as I'd like to answer this question, one's 2nd anniversary is neither the time nor the place.

I think that the Post has fallen short on its reporting on the SC race. What is missing was a facially racist comment by the head of the SC Democratic party, Dick Harpootlian, in which he said that Governor Nikki Haley, a Sikh-American, should "go back to wherever the h@ll she came from." This comment was made in the presence of Elizabeth Colbert Busch and VP Biden. While I did not see this story covered in the Post, it was covered else, including the Huff Post. I think that it's relevant to the Colbert Busch-Sanford race, and I would like to know whether Colbert Busch (or VP Biden) have addressed the comments and denounced them. Certainly, the Democratic party should be sensitive to comments like this, given the controversy over Obama's birth certificate. Thank you.

I think the reason that this didn't get covered more was because this is pretty standard fare from Harpootlian, who previously compared Haley to Eva Braun and accused the Hillary Clinton campaign of Lee Atwater tactics. He says a lot of stuff like this. It also would have been a bigger deal if this weren't South Carolina, where this passes for a pretty tame political attack.

It also happened on a Friday night, which is a great time to dump news or commit gaffes. It's much harder for this to be a big deal over the weekend.

That said, we did cover this story today:

1. Will gay marriage pass? 2. Will Bachmann be re-elected?

1. My suspicion is that it will. Minnesota fits the bill politically.

2. Yes. 2012 was a marginally good year for Democrats, and Bachmann had been telling everyone for a year that she was actually an Iowan. That's why it was close. If she can rein it in (as she's been doing in recent months), I don't see why she loses in a pretty red district.

3. Minnesota rocks.

The Fix posted earlier that it might be better if Ms. Colbert-Busch loses now, since she would most likely lose the seat in the regular election 19 months form now. However I disagree on two fronts: 1) A win is a win and it shows that she can win an election, even in highly Republican South Carolina. 2) Incumbency always has advantages going into a General Election.

I just don't see how she could win in 2014. She has not earned rave reviews on the campaign trail, and this would be one of the reddest districts held by a Democrat. Unless you're John Barrow, Jim Matheson or Mike McIntyre, you don't hold a seat like this. Colbert Busch might be an OK politician, but she's not those guys.

Also, a midterm election is likely to be even better for Republicans than 2012 was. This is more like a 60 percent-plus GOP district, in a normal year.

If Sanford wins, what will be the excuse for Democrats. After all they outspent Sanford by over 5-1.

A 58 percent Romney district -- plain and simple. They have gone for it and spent big, which carries with it some risk of failure. But the fact is that they weren't supposed to win this seat. And that remains the case.

How likely is he to run for president? And how big of a liability would his support for Medicaid expansion be?

I think Kasich is really under-sold as a potential presidential candidate. He's got very good numbers in the most important swing state on the map (Ohio), and he's overcome adversity to regain his good name (voters overturned his collective bargaining changes on the ballot).

As for Medicaid, my sense is that it could very well be a problem in the primary. Jindal and Perry have turned it down, for example, and could use that to link Kasich to Obamacare. If anything, I think the fact that Kasich went along with it suggests he won't run for president in 2016.

How do you rate her chances at re-election? And why is she a conservative icon while being quite unpopular in a conservative state?

She could very well lose, in my opinion. She won by just 4-5 points in a very good Republican year in a very Republican state in 2010, and she's got not-great numbers as she faces a rematch with state Sen. Vincent Sheehen (D).

Expect Democrats to pay more attention to this race than they did last time.

And if Haley gets a primary challenge (which is quite possible), that certainly won't help.

With Steve King out, what are the chances Latham changes his mind and jumps in? Who else may run on the Republican side?

I've always thought Latham gave a somewhat-squishy statement when he said he wasn't running. Certainly, it left room for a change of heart.

And then last week he sent an e-mail to supporters that joked about the idea of reconsidering.

I think you will see Republicans clamor for him to run. Whether that means he'll change his mind, though, is another question altogether. The GOP had better hope he does, because the bench is getting thin.

How badly has the background-checks fight hurt her at home? She seems to be in an awkward position -- a VP possibility representing a blue-ish state. I've heard from New Hampshire folks that she's seen as really too conservative -- especially too socially conservative -- for an increasingly moderate-to-liberal state. But 2016 is a long time from now.

It's really interesting to see how Ayotte and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) have reacted to their gun votes. Both have seen their numbers drop, and Flake said today that he could vote for the background checks bill with a minor change.  (More here:

If one or both of them jump on board, this thing will have new life. At the same time, they may simply wager that the whole thing will eventually blow over.

This would be much more interesting if members held more town halls like Ayotte has. 

Hi Aaron, Is it possible to draw any conclusions from this race as to what a Weiner or Spitzer race would look like?

I think Weiner may have something to learn. The similarity, of course, is that both of their situations involved pretty bad deception -- in addition to scandals themselves. I think Weiner's was worse, politically speaking, but he's also got a lower threshold for victory if he runs for mayor of NYC (40 percent of Democrats in the primary) than Sanford does (50 percent of all voters).

Spitzer, I think, could very well make a comeback. He was very well regarded as governor and quickly backed out of the spotlight when his scandal broke. Give him a little more time, and I think he can run again.

Thoughts on next weeks Jersey City mayoral election, or is that too local for you guys? There's a weird sexy scandal in that one, too.

I knew nothing about this race, but I could have told you there was some kind of scandal. Jersey never disappoints.

Cuccinelli with a seven point lead? Really? I really need to move.

I think there's a growing consensus that, in the choice between two unelectable candidates in Cuccinelli and McAuliffe, McAuliffe just might be the less electable of the two. Cooch's early ads have been better than Terry's.

Probably not the instrumental you are looking for, but how about Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture Every special election needs majestic music, fireworks, cannons and big church bells. Ka-BOOM!!

Done and done. Next week!

I assumed your biggest celebrity crush nowadays was Chris Cillizza.

Now you're just feeding his ego.

Is he serious about a presidential candidacy? How can he overcome his disastrous 2012 run?

I think he is serious. I think he thinks he failed in 2012 because of his back problems. And I think he wants redemption.

That said, he has said he will announce his plans this year, which is an odd thing to do when you face reelection and the race is still two years from starting. He can't announce for both races at the same time.

Any surer sign of Presidential ambition than weight-loss surgery?

This might actually be a first. Huckabee lost it the old-fashioned way.

This may not be about Christie running for president, but it certainly can't hurt if he does.

How likely is a Libertarian candidate to win a statewide election in the next 4 years?

I just don't see it happening -- unless you've got a Doug Hoffman-Dede Scozzafava-esque situation again in which the GOP candidate is just so-unpalatable to the tea party/anti-establishment crowd.

And even in that race, Hoffman was the Conservative Party nominee, not the Libertarian. The Conservative Party has much more of a track record of winning in NY than does the Libertarian Party anywhere. They even elected a U.S. senator.

Now that he's had this surgery, will it negatively affect him if he doesn't noticeably lose weight?

I don't think so. As we noted today, two-thirds of people who do this surgery don't meet their weight-loss goals, so it's no sure thing.

He's said for a long time that this is a struggle for him. If the surgery doesn't work, he can still say that.

Do you think Gomez could actually win the Senate election?

Anything can happen in a special election, and Republicans (for once) got it right in the primary.

A young Hispanic nominee with military credentials who once supported Barack Obama sounds like a good fit in deep-blue Massachusetts.

But this is still Ed Markey's race to lose.

He's been in the public eye quite a bit over the past several years, but his national poll numbers remain mediocre. He's not popular at home. He's certainly not charismatic. Perhaps overrated as a presidential candidate?

I think the conventional wisdom is heading in that direction. The thing is that the guy is just SO good on paper. If he can put it together, he coulda been a contender.

But if he doesn't make up ground back home, it's going to be very hard to argue that he's the right guy for the GOP nomination. And I have a hard time seeing why Republican primary voters who get more excited about him than somebody like Marco Rubio (if he runs).

Tupac or Biggie?


Flip flopped on health care mandate and now undermining immigration. Why are they considered a think tank instead of just reactionaries? So frustrating.

I thought the concerted response from pro-immigration reform Republicans and conservatives to Heritage was VERY interesting. They are not backing down from this fight. They know that they need to do something.

And Heritage is certainly a different place now that Jim DeMint has taken over. DeMint made a cottage industry out of fighting the GOP establishment. We'll see if they keep heading in that direction.

I grew up in an area where if you ran Jesus Christ on a Dem ticket he would lose to Satan himself. In the privacy of the voting booth natural reflex takes over and the people will pull the GOP lever. Doesn't make them smart, just predictable.

Interesting idea -- a sort of Bradley/Wilder Effect for scandal rather than race. I think it makes sense. We'll see tonight.

How likely is it that House Republicans bolt over immigration? The GOP base is not friendly to anything that looks like "amnesty."

It's very, very possible. As with the gun issue, House Republicans will be very concerned about how this could negatively effect them in the primary.

It's one thing to talk about doing something that is broadly popular; it's another to explain specific legislation to conservative voters. And the vast majority of these House Republicans don't have to worry about losing in the general election.

Given the Heritage Foundation's "study" on immigration, are we going to see a WWF-style knock-down drag-out grudge match any time soon between Heritage and the Cato Institution for right-wing think-tank supremacy?

Nerdy academics in a steel cage match? I'd get the pay-per-view!

I'm glad to have another political conversation that I can read here in Rochester, MN. Any chance you will continue this on a regular basis? Good responses imho.

Hello to my friends in Rochester! Mayo, John Marshall or Century?

And to your question: Yes. This chat will be held every week at this time. And I'd love to have you all back next week!

With that, I will bid you adieu. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of your questions. But thanks for being a part of the inaugural "Ask Aaron" live chat! We'll see you next time...

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, live in Annandale, Va.
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