PPP's final poll of the special election in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District finds a race that's too close to call, with Republican Mark Sanford leading Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch 47-46. The 1 point lead for Sanford represents a 10 point reversal from PPP's poll of the race two weeks ago, when Colbert Busch led by 9 points at 50-41.
Sanford has gotten back into the race by nationalizing it and painting Colbert Busch as a liberal. A plurality of voters in the district- 47%- say they think Colbert Busch is a liberal compared to 43% who characterize her as ideologically 'about right.' Colbert Busch's favorability rating has dropped a net 19 points compared to 2 weeks ago, from +25 then at 56/31 to +6 now at 50/44.
While Colbert Busch is seen as too liberal, 48% of voters think that Sanford's views are 'about right' on the issues compared to just 38% who see him as too conservative. Sanford's also seen some repair to his image over the course of the campaign. Although he's still unpopular, sporting a -11 net favorability rating at 43/54, that's up a net 13 points from our first poll in March when he was at 34/58.
If SC-1 voters went to the polls on Tuesday and voted for the candidate they personally liked better, Colbert Busch would be the definite winner. That's why Sanford's campaign has tried to shift the focus toward national Democrats who are unpopular in the district, and that's been a key in helping him to make this race competitive again. Nancy Pelosi has a 24/61 approval rating in SC-1 and although voters don't like Sanford, they do like him better than Pelosi by a 53/37 margin. President Obama doesn't fare a whole lot better in the district. His approval is 39/54, and voters say they have a higher opinion of Sanford than him by a 48/44 spread.
Another key for Sanford is GOP turnout. There are indications in the PPP poll that enough Republicans are going to hold their noses and vote for Sanford.
The other key development in this race over the last two weeks is that Republicans are returning to the electorate. On our last poll, conducted right after the trespassing charges against Sanford became public, we found that the likely electorate had voted for Mitt Romney by only 5 points in a district that he actually won by 18. That suggested many Republican voters were depressed and planning to stay home. On our final poll we find an electorate that's Romney +13- that's still more Democratic than the turnout from last fall, but it's a lot better for Sanford than it was a couple weeks ago.
This race shouldn't have been close and there's a chance that Sanford will end up being a placeholder for a more respectable GOP candidate in 2014. He will certainly be primaried and there are other candidates who would be more electable in this majority Republican district.