On Tuesday night, former Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford defeated Elizabeth Colbert-Busch for South Carolina’s first congressional district House seat. Sanford not only won the race, but he won by nine points (54-45%). Journalists, pundits, and casual observers of politics are all pondering the same question: How did a man who only four years ago cheated his wife with an Argentinian woman and lied to the citizens of South Carolina claiming he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was off on more exotic excursions? More to the point, this is what everybody was thinking:
From reading reports, he pulled a Rick Santorum, which does not mean what you probably think it means. First, Sanford ran a very Republican district, never underestimate the power of partisan voting blocs. Second, he was personable and charismatic. He became the “New Mark Sanford.” Finally, as Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan at the Washington Post point out, Colbert-Busch tried to turn the focus of the campaign on Sanford and it failed.
So how does this connect to Rick Santorum? When Rick Santorum ran for the Republican nomination in 2012, he had to reset his image from the anti-gay, anti-woman, and anti-modern image that voters conceived of him into a plausible nominee. His best route was to win the Iowa caucuses first and hope that would lead to victory in other states. Of course, Santorum couldn’t take back all the problematic statements he made in the past, so he decided to don this look:
GOP voters found this image to be friendly and his style to be easygoing. Not to mention, the former Pennsylvania senator visited all 99 Iowa counties before the caucuses ended and quickly mobilized a large evangelical voter network the weekend before the contest. Nevertheless, he won Iowa, and he did it with charm. Since Santorum couldn’t replicate that strategy everywhere else in the country, he lost the nomination (one of many reasons anyway). Without the tacky sweater vest, Sanford incorporated a similar strategy of handshaking and baby kissing that helped him win South Carolina, which is not all that “inconceivable” after all.