Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D) is now officially opposing ex-governor Mark Sanford (R) in a South Carolina congressional district that should vote for a Republican in every election. But, as we all know, the special vote to replace Senator Tim Scott (R) is very different, and it is clear, because of Sanford’s unpopularity after his highly publicized extra-marital affair became international news, that Busch does have a chance to win.
Like everything in politics, it all comes down to mathematics. On paper, Sanford has the easier victory path. Mitt Romney scoring 58.3 percent of the vote as compared to President Obama’s 40.2 percent, provides a clear gauge about this electorate’s strong Republican penchant. So far, at least 26,066 people have already voted for Sanford versus 15,802 who have cast a ballot for Busch. The most important general election voters, however, could be the group of 20,005 Republicans who have already voted twice in this three-tiered election, but have yet to support Sanford.
The big question, of which the answer probably determines the final outcome, is just how many of those 20,000 anti-Sanford Republican voters will actually vote for Elizabeth Colbert Busch? While true this group does not particularly like Sanford, they are also Republican primary and run-off voters, thus illustrating at least somewhat of a commitment to the GOP. Will they eschew their party loyalty in this special general election in order to avoid supporting Sanford? Or, will they simply stay home and not participate? The answers to these questions are race-defining.
Since 2000, the highest turnout for a regular South Carolina primary election has been 26 percent of the registered voters. Since this special election will attract a great deal of attention, it may be reasonable to assume that the turnout could reach, or even surpass, this figure. On the other hand, keeping in mind that the primary turnout was a combined 16.2 percent, while 10.6 percent of the registered voters returned for the Republican run-off, it is hard to imagine the participation factor jumping so high as to eclipse the record. Therefore, if we use the high 26 percent turnout figure for the purposes of example, approximately 112,000 voters will cast ballots in the May 7 special general election. This means the winning candidate will need a little over 56,000 votes.
With Sanford sitting at 26,066 and Busch holding 15,802 votes, both candidates are a long way from their victory vote goal. If the above turnout projections are close to accurate, then approximately 71,000 new voters, meaning those who did not participate in either the primary or run-off elections, will cast ballots in the special general election.
Using the above calculations, the more anti-Sanford primary and run-off support that Busch attracts, the fewer new voters she will need to persuade. For example, is it possible that she converts 50 percent of the Curtis Bostic 20,005 run-off voters while most of the others stay home? If so, she will then only need to capture a bare majority of the new voters in order to score the upset. Thinking in this manner, her mathematical challenge seems more realistic, but can she convert such a high number of anti-Sanford Republicans? The next five weeks will tell us. The race is on!