It took just over 25 minutes for the South Carolina congressional debate between Elizabeth Colbert-Busch and former Gov. Mark Sanford (R) to veer toward the personal on Monday.
“When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayer, it doesn’t mean you take that money we save and leave the country for a personal purpose,” said Colbert-Busch, in a direct attack on Sanford’s 2009 trips to Argentina to engage in an affair.
“She went there, Governor Sanford,” said one of the moderators, WCBD-TV anchor Brendan Clark.
“I couldn’t hear what she said,” Sanford said in response, which drew a laugh from his Democratic opponent. “Repeat it, I didn’t hear it. I’m sorry.”
Colbert-Busch’s response began as a critique of the execution of the federal sequester, before turning into a direction the event host, Newsweek and Daily Beast political director John Avlon, mentioned to the crowd.
“The national conversation on this election has been a little bit off topic,” Avlon told the audience before the debate started. “Some folks in the national media seem to think this is a race between [Sanford's ex-wife] Jenny Sanford and [Colbert-Busch's brother] Stephen Colbert.”
For his part, Sanford — who lost the backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee — focused most of his attack on painting his opponent as a beneficiary of Democratic party largesse supplied by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“She spent $370,000, right here in the 1st Congressional District,” Sanford said to a mixed reaction from the audience. “With all due respect to her and others, they have not pushed for financial discipline in Washington D.C. So to disavow the million dollars that’s come in in support of your candidacy from people who have pushed for more spending in Washington D.C., to me, doesn’t make great sense.”
The Monday night confrontation was the only scheduled debate between the two candidates before their May 7 election to fill the congressional seat vacated by now-Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Sanford is scheduled to be in court two days later to answer to charges of violating his divorce settlement by trespassing on his ex-wife’s house.
Watch Colbert-Busch zing Sanford for his past indiscretions, in video from the Associated Press, below.
The entire debate was posted on YouTube by the state’s public educational broadcasting network, South Carolina ETV, and can be seen below.