6 Big Questions About Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch

Jill Lawrence
National Journal

We don’t have Ashley Judd to write about anymore, but we do have the guilty, albeit temporary, pleasure of the House contest between former Republican Rep. and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, known most recently for his spectacularly strange personal life, and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, known by most of the country as comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister. As the pair plunge into campaigns to win the May 7 special election for a vacant House seat, I can’t be the only one wondering:


  1. Will Mark Sanford’s Argentinian fiancée, Maria Belen Chapur, be part of his campaign? She was at his victory party Tuesday night when he won the GOP runoff. But is this a lose-lose situation? If she is visible, she could stoke resentment. If she’s not, people might wonder where she is. (And if he wins, how will she go over as a House spouse?).
  2. Will ex-wife Jenny Sanford weigh in on the contest? She declined to run herself (and also declined her ex-husband’s request that she run his campaign!). She didn’t endorse anyone in the Republican primary or runoff. Seems that it would take superhuman restraint to stay out of it at this point. On the other hand, endorsing Colbert Busch might send the wrong message to her three sons. Related: Will she let her sons get involved in their father’s campaign?
  3. Will Stephen Colbert help or hurt his sister? Obviously, he is a source of massive campaign cash for her. He raised money for her in New York and Charleston in February, and has two more fundraisers scheduled this month, in New York and Washington. Still, while not exactly Hollywood, Colbert is a celebrity and a liberal – both of which have backlash potential.
  4. Who will make best use of biography? What with Argentina, the Appalachian Trail, his exalted public office, his weepy confessionals, his wife’s forbearance, and her subsequent (not always kind) book, Sanford’s affair was not exactly garden-variety. But he has fashioned a compelling (to some) tale of redemption out of an epically weird episode, and hey, he is engaged. Still, Colbert Busch also has a story—of growing up one of 11 children; coping with the death of her father and two brothers in a 1974 plane crash when she was just 19, and returning to school after a divorce to better support herself and three children.
  5. How bad is Sanford’s problem with Republican women? Colbert Busch is a mother, a grandmother, and a businesswoman from a large, well-respected local family. That could make her a reasonable alternative – if they can get past her career in renewable energy, her past critiques of Republicans, and retweets that suggest she supports gay marriage and abortion rights. Maybe conservative GOP women just stay home.
  6. He says Col-bare’, she says Col’-bert. Will Stephen stop pronouncing his surname in faux French? Unlikely, given he's built a whole comic identity around his faux pretentiousness. Will Elizabeth switch over to match her brother? Unlikely, given the well known conservative antipathy to anything francais. If she wins, the nation will just have to live with the inconsistency. Or, as the French say, vive ladifference.