Democrats Succumb To Low Country Miasma

The marshes and rice fields of coastal South Carolina were once considered an unhealthy place, where the night air contained a “miasma” that could bring on fevers and death.

This was an old wives’ tale. The real culprit along the Carolina seacoast, or “low country,” was malaria borne by mosquitoes – which are more active at night, hence the association between disease and time of day. But though the low country is nowadays a lovely and healthful place, it claimed another victim this week: Democrats, forced to bury their hopes of recapturing the House of Representatives next year.

The fatal bite was delivered by former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a political zombie if ever there was one, via his defeat of Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election for a vacant seat in the district that encompasses Charleston.

Sanford’s victory would not have been remarkable under other circumstances. The district is heavily Republican (it went for Romney by 18 points last November) and, by most standards, a former governor like Sanford is over-qualified for the House of Representatives.

Yet Sanford was all but abandoned by his own party. The GOP seemed ready to write off his political comeback in the wake of his nationally publicized sex scandal in 2009, in which he claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail in order to cover up an affair with the woman who is now his fiancee. The National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew its support of Sanford in April, in the wake of leaked information about renewed legal disputes between Sanford and his ex-wife.

Colbert Busch enjoyed the backing of national Democrats (and their money), her brother Stephen Colbert and his celebrity influence, and the many South Carolinians, especially women, who just could not see themselves voting for Sanford for any elected office whatsoever. According to Bloomberg, Colbert Busch raised about $1.2 million to Sanford’s $788,000. But it wasn’t enough.

It is unlikely that Sanford won the election because most residents of the district like him better than Colbert Busch. It is much more probable that an overwhelming majority of them prefer John Boehner to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. A vote for Sanford was, effectively, a vote for Boehner, and Sanford was quick to frame it that way. His campaign also encouraged the converse view that a vote for Colbert Busch was a vote to return the House to the hands of Pelosi, who helped to push President Obama’s legislative agenda through Congress during the president’s first two years in office.

If there is one thing most South Carolinians don’t like, it’s Obama’s legislative agenda.

The result might have been different had the race been held last November, with Obama at the top of the ticket to draw the less motivated among Democratic voters. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Obama was not running this week. He won’t be running in 2014, either.

Keeping control of the House does not mean Republicans are likely to win a majority in the Senate, even though, for the third time in a row, the legislative calendar works in their favor. Republicans have amply demonstrated that if they nominate poor candidates in statewide races, they can lose otherwise winnable seats.

Most House districts, in contrast, are essentially one-party fiefdoms in which even a seemingly hopeless candidate can win if he runs on the right ticket. If a disgraced Mark Sanford can triumph in socially conservative South Carolina, then there probably are not enough truly competitive House seats left to give Democrats a realistic chance at gaining a majority next year.

That hope died in the low country’s springtime night air.

About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

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