Colbert Busch, Sanford to meet in only one debate

gsmith@islandpacket.comApril 22, 2013 

Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Mark Sanford

First Congressional District candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch -- who leads her Republican rival, according to a new poll -- has agreed to just one debate against Mark Sanford, who questions why she won't agree to more.

Sanford, who launched a five-day tour across the district Monday, accused the Charleston Democrat of debate-dodging and running a "stealth campaign." He is encouraging TV stations to carry the one debate on April 29 at The Citadel in Charleston.

"What my opponent is in essence doing is asking voters to make their decisions based upon false and misleading ads being aired by Nancy Pelosi and national Democrats, and I think that's a real disservice to the people that Colbert Busch is seeking to represent," Sanford said. "We are going to give my opponent plenty of opportunities over the remainder of the campaign to debate the issues in person, and we're hopeful that she agrees to do so."

The former governor said the Colbert Busch campaign is fueled by $1 million in out-of-state money, but voters don't know where she stands on the issues.

Colbert Busch, campaigning in Beaufort County on Saturday, said the condensed timeline leading to the May 7 special election makes it difficult to schedule more than the one debate. She says talking to voters one-on-one and answering their questions directly is better use of her time.

"If we had a longer period of time, for sure (we'd do more debates,)" said Colbert Busch. "I want to get to know the district. I already know Mark."

Colbert Busch held nine public events during the past eight days, said her campaign spokesman James Smith, adding she'll have a "robust public schedule" in coming days, including a rally at Burke High School in Charleston Wednesday.

The lack of debates has some wondering if Colbert Busch's campaign is trying to shield its novice candidate from the politically seasoned Sanford, who has never lost an election and has a tried-and-true debate style.

"Sanford is folksy and at ease on the debate stage," said Scott Hoffman, a Winthrop University political scientist, adding he could only recall one debate during Sanford's 2002 gubernatorial run against incumbent Gov. Jim Hodges when he didn't come out looking good. "I assume that her strategy is not to give him a platform to perform well and argue issues, but rather let the election be more of a referendum on his personal character."

New polling, released Monday, shows Colbert Busch has reason to stay that course.

The Democratic firm, Public Policy Polling, finds that Colbert Busch has expanded her lead to 9 points over Sanford, suggesting Sanford has taken a hit from last week's revelation that his ex-wife has filed a complaint against him in family court.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent, indicates Colbert Busch has a 16-point edge over Sanford with independent voters and strong support from Democrats. She also is getting some support from Republicans.

The poll also notes last week's revelation that former first lady Jenny Sanford has filed a complaint against her ex-husband in family court for trespassing onto her property is convincing some Republican voters to stay home on Election Day.

Mark Sanford has said he went to his ex-wife's house to watch the second half of the Super Bowl with the couple's 14-year-old son.

The incident led the National Republican Congressional Committee to pull its support for Sanford.

Meanwhile, national Democratic groups are moving into high gear with attack ads against Sanford, pointing out his ethics fines for misuse of the state plane, an extramarital affair with the woman to whom he is now engaged and his absence from the state in the summer of 2009 to carry out the affair.

Sanford has launched his own ad, attacking Colbert Busch for taking donations from labor unions.

Follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

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