Today's the big day for the special election in South Carolina's 1st congressional district, which, thanks to the presence of two candidates with much higher profiles than your usual House race contestants, is one of the most attention-grabbing House specials we've seen in years. The candidates, of course, are Republican Mark Sanford—who represented a predecessor to this district in the 1990s before becoming governor in 2002 and then going on to even greater celebrity for his Appalachian Trail-hiking exloits—and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who benefits from having a famous brother, Stephen Colbert, in her corner.
After a spate of initial polls giving Colbert Busch the lead against the badly damaged Sanford (with leads as high as 9, in Public Policy Polling's late-April poll of the race), things have settled down into a dead heat in the last few weeks. That's seen in not only a poll from conservative blog Red Racing Horses, which found a 46-46 tie, but also PPP's most recent poll from this weekend, which gives Sanford a 47-46 lead. If anything, these results show Sanford with a perceptible advantage heading into today: PPP found that the remaining undecided voters broke in favor of Mitt Romney in the 2012 election by a 59-25 margin.
While that's disappointing given the previous ECB-friendly polls, it shouldn't be too surprising. That kind of reversion to the mean is usually what happens in strongly partisan districts like this one (it went 40 percent Obama, 58 percent Romney in 2012; only three House Democrats represent districts redder than this one, and they're all entrenched veterans).
That may be particularly pronounced with PPP's previous poll; the one that showed a 9-point lead was taken right after the news about Sanford's trespassing at his ex-wife's property came out, and it seemed like Republican responses to the poll were particularly muted at that point. With that incident already sliding down the memory hole, enough Republican partisans have swallowed their pride and re-activated, to put Sanford within reach of a win. (Also not helpful: the presence of a Green Party candidate, who's pulling 4 percent in the most recent PPP poll, potentially enough to tip the balance of the race in Sanford's direction.)
Let's take a look at the counties that will be involved in tonight's election, below the fold.
The 1st, located in the Low Country along most of the state's Atlantic coast, is the most affluent and educated district in the state, not as deeply Bible Belt-inflected as the state's Upcountry. The district's center of gravity is the lovely city of Charleston; Barack Obama, in fact, narrowly won Charleston County in 2012, but most of the Charleston area's African-American voters are gerrymandered instead into Jim Clyburn's SC-06, leaving the more conservative parts of Charleston Co. in the 1st. The district also contains much of Dorchester and Berkeley Counties, which are suburban/exurban areas outside Charleston that tend to be even more conservative (there's also a tiny portion of rural Colleton County).
The county that may be most interesting to watch is Beaufort County in the state's southern corner, which is home to the resort area of Hilton Head and a lot of wealthy Yankee retirees; it can be considered the swing county, to the extent that it has about the same percentages as the district as a whole. What the entire race basically pivots on is whether this county's voters—who appear to be more motivated by financial rather than social conservatism, unlike voters in much of the rest of the state—make a meritocratic judgment and rule out Sanford based on his previous on-the-job dereliction, or whether their perceived economic self-interest trumps all else.
If you're following the race closely tonight, you'll want to keep these benchmarks handy; these represent what percentage Colbert Busch will need to be pulling down in each of the counties in order to be on track to get a bare minimum of 50 percent districtwide, based on how the parties performed in 2012. (Sanford and Colbert Busch are both from the Charleston area, so there shouldn't be any regional quirks in the reporting.) As you can see, she'll need to win outright in Charleston County while keeping it very close in the rest of the district.
|County||% of 2012
South Carolina polls close at 7 PM Eastern time; Daily Kos Elections will be liveblogging the results tonight, and you can also follow along with the AP link here. With that in mind, let's turn this over to all of you: what are your predictions for tonight? Who wins, and what's the spread?