Political Animal


May 01, 2013 10:30 AM Low Country

By Ed Kilgore

Since it’s South Carolina we are talking about, it was just a matter of time until some serious skullduggery emerged in the 1st congressional district special election, particularly among those backing the increasingly desperate candidacy of Mark Sanford. According to ThinkProgress’ Scott Keyes and Adam Peck, a shadowy and previously unknown organization calling itself “SSI Polling” has been conducting classic “push-poll” calls in the district, with “questions” like the following:

- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had had an abortion?”
- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you a judge held her in contempt of court at her divorce proceedings?
- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if she had done jail time?”
- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she was caught running up a charge account bill?”

Nice. The transparent purpose of the calls is to encourage conservative voters to conclude both candidates are lower morally than snake’s belly in a wagon rut, making a pure partisan or ideological vote for Sanford less unsavory. It’s not clear how extensive the calls were or whether they are still being made, but stuff like this usually happens in conjunction with (and is designed to promote) a whispering campaign like the one which afflicted John McCain during the pivotal 2000 presidential primary in the Palmetto State.

All this is going on even as the adultery facilitation site AshleyMadison.com has put up a billboard in South Carolina suggesting Sanford should have used their confidential services. But it’s unlikely there are many voters in the district who need to be reminded of the ex-governor’s foibles.

Indeed, rumors are circulating in South Carolina that soon-to-be-released polls will show Sanford gaining ground on Busch; he’s also getting some validation from national conservative sources like Rand Paul and FreedomWorks. It could be months or years before we learn what all went on under the radar in this Low Country contest, particularly now that we are in the last week.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • HenryW on May 01, 2013 11:18 AM:

    Time to bring out the apocryphal speech that George Smathers never gave to the rubes in North Florida when running against Claude Pepper for Senator: "Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy." And in other (equally apocryphal) versions he referred to Pepper as a sexagenarian and stated that he had matriculated while in college.

  • Napoleon on May 01, 2013 11:27 AM:


    That is obviously not a push poll. The Think Progress piece notes that two people mentioned that they started with general questions. That is a pretty good tell that in fact this is a real poll someone commissioned that is trying out actual line of attack that are contemplated. Someone running a real push poll is not going to waste time and money on stuff like that. The time spend on the phone on those questions is less time pushing the bs message.

  • c u n d gulag on May 01, 2013 11:43 AM:

    Having quit a job for a Republican polling outfit in NY over sh*t like this, I agree with Napoleon.

    Time is of the essence with a person doing polling - "push" or legitimate - so these were probably test calls to see what might work best.

    Then, the actual push-poll keeps harping on the same point, all throughout the call.

  • james on May 01, 2013 11:44 AM:

    Did ECB have an abortion? Was she held in contempt? Is she divorced? Has she done jail time? Did she run up a charge account bill? In other words are any of those allegations true? If so, sorry, folks, they are fair game in a hostile campaign. I don't know if they are.

    I know Mark Sanford cheated on his wife, lied about it to her and to the public, used public resources to hide it, probably to facilitate it, and is actually divorced. All of this is a matter of public record and is fair game too.

  • ex-curm on May 01, 2013 11:58 AM:

    "There have been no reports that any of these things actually happened to Colbert Busch."


  • RaflW on May 01, 2013 12:29 PM:

    “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she was caught running up a charge account bill?”

    Hilarious! “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she shopped at the grocery store using her VISA card?”

    Jeepers. Theses people will turn owning a cat into a sign of evil if they could figure out how to make it seem ominous without implicating all the nice old cat ladies.

    On a more serious note, the abortion/jail/contempt stuff is both the usual skulduggery, and just as usually plain wrong and shitty.

    Your modern GOP! Using decades-old dirty tricks. I'm assuming robocalls about how "Dems vote on Wednesday" are soon to follow.

  • RaflW on May 01, 2013 12:33 PM:


    Ummm, an abortion is 1) legal. And 2) between a patient and her doctor.

    In other words, its none of your business. Or a campaigns. Or any f*king one else. Period.

  • MuddyLee on May 01, 2013 2:12 PM:

    Does anybody know if Mark Sanford has ever actually hiked the Appalachian Trail?