Despite a hysterical nationwide campaign by the Democratic Party on behalf of its candidate, former governor Mark Sanford has easily defeated Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who is best known for being the sister of a comedian. CNN reports that with 70% of the vote counted, Sanford holds a commanding 54%-45% lead. So the race wasn’t close after all.
The polls showed this special election as a very tight contest. Public Policy Polling is a Democrat-leaning firm that did well in 2012 because it foresaw a massive Democratic turnout, despite the Obama administration’s record in office. At one point, PPP had Colbert Busch ahead by nine points, and its final poll had Sanford leading by one. Which means that this time, the Democrats didn’t turn out the way PPP expected.
Mark Sanford’s victory shouldn’t be a surprise–Mitt Romney carried the district by 18 points–but it is nevertheless good news for Republicans. The key political question, at the moment, is whether the Democrats’ extraordinary turnout in 2008, which was unexpectedly replicated (largely) in 2012, was a unique phenomenon related to Barack Obama’s status as the First Black President, or whether it signals a game-changing ability on the part of the Democrats to turn out minority voters, and others, on a consistent basis. The fact that Sanford, a deeply flawed candidate, substantially outperformed the polls is just one data point. But it suggests that the Obama phenomenon may not be easily replicable. If that is the case, 2014 could look a lot like 2010.