CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch squared off in a spirited debate Monday night in the race for the state's vacant 1st Congressional District seat.
Sanford, a Republican, stressed his efforts to rein in spending as a member of Congress and as a two-term governor. He noted that he turned back economic stimulus funds.
Colbert Busch reminded Sanford that he used taxpayer funds to "leave the country for a personal purpose" - referring to the extramarital affair with an Argentine woman he had while governor. Sanford didn't respond.
"When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we've saved and leave the country for a personal purpose."
Colbert Busch cited her business experience Monday night and criticized Sanford for voting in Congress against harbor dredging and building a higher bridge for the Port of Charleston.
Sanford countered that she must not have been too bothered by it too because she gave $500 to his gubernatorial campaign.
"I don't think it must have bothered her that much given the fact that wrote a $500 check in support of my candidacy. I get it that it bothers her now."
The Democrat shot back that Sanford had told her he supported trade and dredging. She turned to him Monday and said, "You didn't tell the truth."
Another hot topic between the two candidates was donations from special interests.
While Sanford's repeated references to Nancy Pelosi weren't popular, he says Pelosi's donation to Colbert Busch's campaign comes with an agenda.
"I don't think Nancy Pelosi gives $370,000 expecting her not to vote for Speaker."
Colbert Busch says she's independent and only represents the people of District 1.
"I want to be very clear Mark. Nobody tells me what to do except the people South Carolina's first district
The candidates also differed over immigration reform, the federal health care overhaul and abortion.
The special election is May 7.
First-time candidate Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, was often the aggressor. However, Sanford came armed with attack lines of his own as he tried to tie her to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and labor unions. She said she was independent and planned to represent the district's voters, first and foremost. The debate was frequently interrupted by applause and shouts from the audience.
The debate was their first joint appearance in the campaign that began after then-U.S. Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by fellow Republican Jim DeMint.
Sanford and Colbert Busch won their respective party primaries - Sanford after a GOP runoff. They are now vying along with Green Party Candidate Eugene Platt in the May 7 special election in the district, which runs from northeast of Charleston south to the resort of Hilton Head Island.
Sanford's public career was sidelined in 2009 after he revealed he had an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman to whom he is now engaged.
More recently, his ex-wife Jenny accused Sanford in a court complaint of repeatedly trespassing in her home. The revelation prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to pull its support from Sanford's campaign. Sanford has said he watched part of the Super Bowl at the beach house with their 14-year-old son because he was concerned about the teen watching it alone.
Before the debate, Sanford hammered Colbert Busch for not debating more.
Sanford accused her of running what he called a stealth campaign, fueled by out-of-state money, and asserted that voters don't know where she stands on the issues.
Colbert Busch has been busy with her own aggressive campaign schedule, her campaign has said. But she said she doesn't think the campaign will turn on the debate.
"I think people understand our campaign and what our campaign is doing resonates throughout the district," she added.