The question now for Sanford is: can he win the runoff? Although he easily took first place in Tuesday's voting, that was expected as he was the most well-known candidate in the crowded field of 16 candidates. Sanford's 37 percent put him well ahead of the 13 percent captured by second-place finisher Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston County Council member. Yet, more than 60 percent of voters chose a candidate other than Sanford. Many of the candidates ran as anti-Sanford candidates. Thus, Sanford's ceiling of support may not be much more than what he received Tuesday. Ultimately, it seems to come down to whether or not voters trust Sanford and are willing to forgive him. Sanford seems to recognize this. His first campaign ad featured him talking about changing Washington and then confessing:
I've experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes. But in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it.So he frames his campaign as God giving him a second chance (this ad, by the way, was mocked in an ad by candidate Teddy Turner, a Republican whose parents are Ted Turner and Jane Fonda). On election night, Sanford repeated this theme in comments as he celebrated his first-place finish:
There's this amazing reservoir of human grace out there that's a reflection of God's grace, and I've seen it first hand.This rhetoric about seeking forgiveness and redemption from both God and voters - and almost treating the judgment of voters as a sign of God's favor - is an interesting but logical outgrowth of our age of confessional politics. As I noted in my book on religious rhetoric in presidential campaigns (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics), politicians today are expected to publicly confess to the people as if we the people are the priests. Sanford is modeling that expectation and treating the people as the ones able to truly offer him absolution. It will be interesting to see if the people give Sanford another chance in the runoff. And if they do not, it will be even more interesting to see how he frames the loss in relation to God's grace.