“You are my first telephone interview of this whole process,” one would-be next congressman of South Carolina’s First District told me a few weeks ago.
It was a surprising statement at first. The race to fill now-Sen. Tim Scott’s congressional seat in South Carolina’s first district has hardly been low profile.
But that attention has been largely devoted to one Republican contender: former governor Mark Sanford, making his return to politics in the wake of the scandal at the end of his gubernatorial term. The storyline has proven too good to resist – numerous national media outlets have written about the special election, and Sanford even appeared on the “Today Show” several weeks ago to discuss his run.
That high name recognition and the financial advantages that it affords him are expected to propel him into one of the top two spots in the sixteen-person Republican primary, securing him a slot in the expected run-off, which will occur if no one candidate wins a majority of the vote.
But there are 15 Republicans vying with Sanford for the nomination, all less well-known than he is, and each trying to carve out a unique path into the voters’ hearts and onto their ballots in the overcrowded primary. The Daily Caller spoke to 14 of them, as well as Sanford. Only one, Curtis Bostic, did not respond to TheDC’s interview requests.
Most of the other candidates are quick to tell you that the former governor’s notoriety is anything but a good thing.
“Well, I mean he certainly has the most name recognition, for good or for bad,” candidate Teddy Turner told TheDC. “You know there’s a lot of people right now who have name recognition, Lance Armstrong, you know, [Manti] Te’o.”
Turner himself has been subject of a fair amount of attention: As the son of Ted Turner, the liberal CNN founder and one-time husband of Jane Fonda, Teddy Turner’s appearance in a Republican primary has made some waves.
“Being a Turner, it’s a wonderful thing,” he says. “But also sometimes it works against you.”
“There’s preconceived notions. So people think that they know something about me when they don’t,” Turner says of his lineage. “They think that, ‘Oh, he was born with a silver spoon, oh he’s never had a real job, oh he’s never done anything. What’s he done besides ride his father’s coattails?’ And that really couldn’t be further from the truth. So it’s a tough position to be in because if you were John Smith and running in this race, nobody would have preconceived notions about you. They would talk to you about policies, they would talk to you about issues, they wouldn’t say, ‘Well, I can’t vote for you because Jane Fonda was your stepmother.’ So it makes it, you know, it’s difficult to get a fair shake.”
The high school economics teacher is pitching himself as the absolute opposite of a career politician, someone who will skip the political “double talk” of telling people what they want to hear, and “get people to understand, that although eating ice cream is good, eating spinach is better.”
Sanford’s notoriety, Turner’s famous name, not to mention likely Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, brother of comedian Stephen Colbert, has turned the race into what Jonathan Hoffman, one of the fourteen other Republican candidates, deemed a “celebrity circus.”
“That’s disappointing for a lot of people here … because the race is not getting the thorough vetting that it should,” he told TheDC.
“A lot of voters are just incredibly frustrated by the media coverage, that literally all media coverage has been about Gov. Sanford’s affair, Teddy Turner’s father, or Elizabeth Colbert’s brother,” he added. “Not a single one of those things is going to make life better for Republicans in this district. Not a single thing in that is going to make life better for the voters of South Carolina.”
Hoffman is touting himself as “the only non-career politician in the field that has experience,” having worked for the Department of Homeland Security.
There are a number of “non-career politicians” in this race – in fact, almost every candidate portrays themselves that way, including Sanford, who most other candidates seem to feel personifies the term.
But Hoffman says his time in Washington, D.C. means he understands the system and will “be able to get to work on day one.”
The same, of course, could be said of Sanford, but Hoffman is confident.
“I’ll put my record of success up against his in Washington any day,” he says.