UPDATE: This post initially included a line about Mark Sanford's attendance at pre-primary debates and candidate forums, saying that he didn't attend them all. A little more diligence would have pointed me to the fact that Curtis Bostic, too, has skipped forums, and skipped them recently. I regret the error.
Last night, the two Republican contenders for South Carolina's open House seat finally debated one-on-one. He had a clear path to a runoff berth, and he eventually won 37 percent of the vote as a team of munchkins split the rest. Curtis Bostic, the former Charleston councilman who won the other berth was tested, ready, untouched by scandal.
He was okay. Sanford absolutely outplayed him. It took nearly an hour, past a long digression about whether the candidates should do a Lincoln-Douglas style debate (the primary is in four days!), for an audience member to ask about "the elephant in the room."
"In 2009, you broke the trust of the people of South Carolina," said the questioner. "How do you reconcile redemption with the costs of your personal decision, which could have compromised the state and/or the party?
This was a friendly way to ask the question. An unfriendly way might bring up the scandal (pretty much forgotten now) of South Carolina paying for Sanford trips that turned into trysts. But a "how can we trust you" question? Easy for Sanford.
Important question, and I suspect one that I'll wrestle with at one level or another for the rest of my life. An old timer took me aside and said, you know, if you live long enough, you're fonna fail at something. And I failed. I failed very publicly. But, you know, in the light of failure, you know, I guess you have a choice to make. This sermon, this Sunday, he said: Do the events of your life define or refine your life? And so, in the wake of my failure, you sort of push through to finish your term. I went down to our family farm, about an hour south of here, and I had an awfully quiet and very spiritual year. And to a degree I refined it. I wallowed in it. I struggled with it. And you go through this incredible soul-searching. You probably do more soul-searching on the way down than on the way up.
Well, of course you do! This string of Dale Carnegie blather got Sanford some mild applause.