by Sam Spence
A new Public Policy Polling survey shows 1st District Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch widening her lead on Republican Mark Sanford, though it's unclear what effect last week's news of an upcoming court date for trespassing will have in the special election's final two weeks.
The new poll (see below), conducted among 796 likely voters just days after the AP reported leaked documents detailing a February trespassing incident at his ex-wife's Sullivan's Island home, shows Colbert Busch leading the former governor 50-41. The special election is set for May 7.
Democrats continue to be cautiously optimistic about Colbert Busch's chances against the Sanford, who spent last week reeling from the fallout of the trespassing charges, including the National Republican Campaign Committee's decision to end their involvement in the race. Sanford capped off the week with a full-page ad in Sunday's Post and Courier where he asked voters to contact him, listing his campaign HQ and personal cell phone numbers. (He also transposed the numbers 1863 and 1836 in what was supposed to be a poignant underdog-themed closing about the Battle of the Alamo, but we can chalk that up as a typo. Right?)
More than half of those polled said last week's trespassing charges give them at least "somewhat serious doubts" about Sanford, but 65% of Republicans indicated the charges did not give them pause. Republicans also gave Mark Sanford higher favorability marks last week than a similar poll before the April 2 GOP primary runoff, improving to 61% favorable, 32% unfavorable to 55/39. It is worth noting that Mark Sanford's increased favorability ratings among GOP respondents seem to have come at the cost of Jenny Sanford's—her 57/15 rating a month ago has dropped to 47/27 after the news of the trespassing incident.
But despite Sanford's self-admitted "rough week", and even with a slightly more Democratic-heavy sample and the benefit of another few weeks of campaigning, compared to the previous poll, Colbert Busch gained just three percentage points and Sanford lost just five, so effects of the "rough week" may have not yet been fully felt or may not actually be very dramatic.
A final indicator to consider: PPP reports 64% of those polled responded "Not sure" when asked their opinion of Democratic candidate for governor Vincent Sheheen. That seems a bit high, especially among "likely voters" being asked about the former Democratic candidate for governor who earned 46% of the popular vote and may provide some insight into PPP's sample, which self-identified as 33% Dem, 42% Republican, and 25% Independent. (To Sheheen's credit, there may actually be some swing voters in that 64%, since 43% polled openly disapprove of Haley.)
PPP also asked voters about background checks for buyers at gun shows, with 72% saying they "strongly supported" the checks, and 45% indicating that they were less likely to support Republicans in future congressional elections.