Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC)’s commanding win on Tuesday is a reminder that campaigns matter. A gifted retail politician, Sanford secured his victory by direct voter contact. Holding more than a dozen events a day, he easily eclipsed his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who rarely left the confines of her campaign bus. His victory is also a reminder, though, that the DC establishment of both parties is horribly out of touch with the public.
Assessing that Sanford was a fatally flawed candidate, national Democrats poured $1 million into the special election. A victory here would help their mythical narrative that regaining the House was in reach next year. Labor unions and other progressive organizations opened their checkbooks, allowing Colbert Busch to outspend Sanford by at least a 3-1 margin. In the end, Sanford won by almost 10 points, a massive setback to national Democrats.
Colbert Busch’s campaign rested on platitudes. The Democrat called herself a businesswoman, even though her public sector job was underwritten by stimulus funds. She avoided all hot-button issues, stating simply that she would address these after the election. She merely promised to “work with” people. It turns out, however, that voters want a candidate to stand for something.
The national GOP also miscalculated the race. Sanford received no support from GOP Leadership, nor the party’s campaign arm, the NRCC. Except for the conservative Independent Women’s Voice, no outside Republican-affiliated groups aided Sanford. The establishment of both parties failed to see that Sanford and his message of fiscal discipline resonated with voters. The believed the cocktail chatter in DC and assumed that Sanford was a lost cause.
Sanford’s recent personal drama obscured the fact that he is a highly-skilled politician. His desire to speak and connect with voters is legendary. His conviction to core principles is genuine and immediately recognizable to voters. On policies important to the public, he stands for something.
The mandarins in both parties need to reflect deeply on Sanford’s comfortable win. Every metric DC uses to assess campaigns went against Sanford. He had a troublesome personal scandal, was abandoned by his party and was out-raised and out-spent. The media mocked and derided his campaign. The only group to embrace his campaign were voters.
Sanford based his campaign on principle. For that, he was richly rewarded.