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Disgraced politicians everywhere are paying super-crazy-close attention to the surprise comeback of Mark Sanford, the studly Republican former governor of South Carolina who just won a special election to Congress. Sanford’s return is remarkable, of course, because of just how far he’d sunk. This is the guy who made “hiking the Appalachian Trail” the most overworked sexual double entendre of 2009.

But it seems that South Carolina voters are all too ready to forgive the “family values conservative” who misused public funds, secretly left the country and lied to his entire staff about his whereabouts and deceived his wife about his sexual affairs with his South American mistress. Sanford was even busted trespassing on his ex-wife’s property during this current campaign — the same campaign that his ex-wife declined to run for him when, unbelievably, he asked her to. This bad ole boy has certainly got some balls.

After all he put us through, Sanford’s latest victory has left much of the country pretty stunned. It really doesn’t seem that long ago that the S.C. legislature agonized for months over whether to impeach him for the 37 violations he was formally charged with. People: this is the same guy who once hopped on a state plane just to get a hair cut. Who was once named one of the worst governors by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The guy who made the words “soul mate” cringe-worthy.

Still, some are asking: Is all of this a cause for celebration or despair? Shouldn’t we be kinda sorta happy that the voters in South Carolina chose ideology over Puritanical reaction to all that ugly messy stuff?

Well, Sanford’s 9-point win loses some of that shine when you realize that Mitt Romney took the same district by a whopping 18 points in 2012, and that this district hasn’t sent a Democrat to D.C. since Dick Nixon learned to use chopsticks. And Paul Krugman, on his New York Times blog, argues it doesn’t even matter who you send to Congress, as long as he or she is from the party of your choice.

But, still… Sanford won.  And we’re in shock. Come on, this guy was supposed to be done. Maybe his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch — who by most accounts ran a competent campaign — just didn’t try hard enough to appeal to South Carolina voters. Or maybe South Carolinians just happen to like their candidates Sanford-level crazy!

This got us thinking. What’s a Democrat have to do to get elected in states like South Carolina? How can they be competitive in a ring with odds and logic and common decency stacked against them? What do YOU think?

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