Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch raised nearly twice as much money as did former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford over the last two months, ahead of the May 7 special election for the Palmetto State's 1st District seat, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission late on Thursday.
Colbert Busch brought in an impressive $877,694 in the pre-special election period, which ran from February 28 to April 17. Sanford, meanwhile, raised $453,554 and ended the period with $284,245 in the bank, slightly more than Colbert Busch's $254,459 cash-on-hand total.
It's no surprise that Democrats have been much more willing than Republicans to get involved in the race. Colbert Busch has received $96,000 in contributions from the campaign and political action committees of twenty-one congressmen and senators (subscribers can see a full list here), as well as labor groups, since February 18. Sanford has brought in just $12,500 from political committees during the same period, according to spokesperson Joel Sawyer. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was the only sitting member of Congress to donate to the campaign. Former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who endorsed Sanford on Thursday, former Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., and the Boeing Corporation, a major job-creator in the district, have also contributed.
The reports are reflective of national support for both candidates. While the National Republican Congressional Committee, Club for Growth and other Republican-aligned groups have signaled of late that they will not support Sanford's campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Majority PAC and VoteVets Action Fund have flooded the Charleston-area airwaves with ads criticizing to boost Colbert Busch. That means that the ratio of funds being raised and spent for Colbert Busch over Sanford is likely greater than two-to-one.
House Majority PAC and several female senators, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have sent out fundraising pleas on Colbert Busch's behalf in recent days. And her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, just held another fundraiser with her in New York City on Tuesday. Those efforts seem to be keeping Colbert Busch on pace. Since April 17, the Democrat has raised an additional $85,400, while Sanford has brought in just $40,600, according to 48-hour reports both campaigns filed with the FEC.
Colbert Busch's financial advantages come as internal polling has shown a tight race -- despite former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 18-point victory in the district last year -- and Democrats are increasingly optimistic about her chances. Still, while enthusiasm for Sanford's campaign may have slowed, it's not clear that voters disaffected with his campaign will turn out for Colbert Busch or just stay home. Turnout is unpredictable in special elections, and even if Colbert Busch wins, she'll have to turn around almost immediately and start campaigning for 2014, when national Republican groups will be hungry to take back a deep-red seat and Sanford will likely be re-retired.
Meanwhile, Sanford has continued to draw unflattering headlines since allegations he had trespassed on his ex-wife's property back in February surfaced last week. The former governor "debated" a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday, drawing comparisons Clint Eastwood's famous "empty chair" speech at the Republican National Convention last year. On Thursday, he drew heat for his response to a fundraising email from House Majority PAC that included his personal cell phone number. Sanford had printed the same number in the Charleston Post & Courier last weekend, inviting voters concerned about the trespassing incident to call him. But when he started getting "hundreds" of calls from Democrats all over the country, Sanford responded by releasing their phone numbers on his website.
The good news for Sanford comes next Monday, when he and Colbert Busch will meet in their first and only debate. Sanford has always been strong in that setting, and this will be the first real debate of Colbert Busch's political career, having faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary. It's perhaps no surprise that her campaign turned down several other debate invitations -- much to Sanford's chagrin. Monday's forum, which is co-sponsored by Patch and the South Carolina Radio Network, will not, however, be televised, potentially minimizing the effects of a strong performance by Sanford, or a weak one by Colbert Busch.