Throughout her campaign Elizabeth Colbert Busch has fashioned herself as a candidate devoid of any ties to a party or agenda. Despite her opponent, former governor Mark Sanford, insisting she holds an allegiance to the left, Mrs. Colbert Busch has remained steadfast in her approach. In a race replete with negative ads and the typical disdain for corruption, partisanship and business as usual, what has not been discussed is what actually defines an independent.
The appeal to the politically-homeless and disenfranchised is commonplace and to be expected; particularly in the current political climate where even head lice is more popular than Congress. Needless to say, appearing to be a rebuke against the establishment is more crucial now than ever. The primary goal of the Colbert Busch campaign has been to capitalize on this bourgeoning cynicism.
To her credit, Mrs. Colbert Busch drove this point home early in Tuesday’s debate saying, “I will take that tough, independent business woman—independent business career and I’ll go to Washington with the help of all of you.”
Sanford would question this statement early and question it often. Citing on several occasions the amount of funding Mrs. Colbert Busch had received from the Democratic left, he stressed his concern that such financial support would not come without expectations. To this she replied, “No one tells me what to do except the people of South Carolina’s 1st District.”
Claiming to be free of partisan influence is easy enough, but is it believable? As the former governor stated during the debate, “I don’t think Nancy Pelosi gives $370,000 expecting [Colbert Busch] not to vote [for her] for speaker.”
Much to the chagrin of her supporters, Sanford’s point is not only valid but critical.
No one’s expecting Mrs. Pelosi to throw money behind Sanford. His opposition to her policies is well-known. Why would she then support an independent candidate who’s allegedly determined to thwart her agenda? She either expects Colbert Busch to be an ally for that agenda or views Sanford as the greatest threat to its success.
Sanford of course is no stranger to taking on both parties. Peter Roff of the U.S. News & World Report writes of Sanford, “While in Congress he compiled a solid record as a fiscal conservative, opposed to tax increases and no fan of increased government spending. He was even, at times, a thorn in the side of the Republican leadership in his unwillingness to go along with efforts to grow the size and scope of government.”
Sanford touched briefly on this rebellious streak Tuesday night saying,
“It adds up to you know, being the first governor in the United States of America to actually turn back stimulus money at a time when it was anything but popular.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of this week’s debate was the exchange regarding Boeing and the NLRB. When asked if the NLRB had overstepped its bounds by fighting to keep Boeing from moving some of its operations to Charleston, Mrs. Colbert Busch unsurprisingly, stated, “Yes. This is a Right-To-Work state and they had no business telling a company where they can locate.”
An incredulous Sanford promptly asked if that were the case, why she had taken $70,000 from labor unions, (including $5,000 from the union that fought to prevent Boeing’s moving to Charleston). Mrs. Colbert Busch shot back, “I am proud of representing everyone in this district. As a matter of fact, I took a pledge only to the people of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District and that means to represent everyone Mark, everyone.”
Sanford replied, “I want to represent everybody but I don’t want to represent the union that is trying to shut down Boeing here in Charleston.”
No one wishes to be pegged as the establishment pick, regardless of party. As voters become increasingly suspect of Washington insiders, it’s understandable that candidates would distance themselves from establishment figures.
What is perplexing is that the candidate most vocal about her credentials as an independent also has the strongest ties to partisan leadership. Whereas Sanford has a record of opposing the status quo of both parties, his opponent has been endorsed and heavily funded by many on the far-left whose policies she purports to oppose.
It’s difficult to imagine a candidate separating themselves from the establishment once elected, when their campaign is wedded to it. If South Carolina voters are looking for someone to buck the system, why not look to the candidate who’s already done it, rather than the one who’s taken their money?