The special election for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District already is a media circus, and the campaign has only just begun.
Two cable television heavyweights—Ted Turner and comedian Stephen Colbert—are sure to feature prominently in the Palmetto State race, even though neither will appear on the ballot. But their names will.
Colbert’s sister, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, announced last week she would seek the seat as a Democrat. No surprise there. But Republicans might be scratching their heads at one of the names on their side of the ballot: Ted Turner, or as he prefers, Teddy.
The son of CNN founder and liberal activist Ted Turner is used to questions about his political leanings: “My dad has been asking for years, ‘How the heck did you become so conservative?’”
Turner and Colbert-Busch join a crowded field of 12 candidates seeking to replace Republican Rep. Tim Scott, who was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to the U.S. Senate late last year to replace Jim DeMint, who stepped down to head up The Heritage Foundation.
The race should prove interesting political theater. Haley’s predecessor in the governor’s mansion, Mark Sanford, who left office in disgrace after a bizarre disappearance led to an admission of marital infidelity, hopes to make his political comeback by reclaiming the congressional seat he held for three terms before becoming governor. Sanford is now engaged to the Argentinian woman who broke up his marriage.
Turner, 49, who owns property near Sanford in the coastal region that forms the heart of the district and knows the former governor, said he hoped his status as a political newcomer would help outweigh any name recognition advantage Sanford has.
Turner admits he also has some name recognition, but like Sanford, it might not help him when his conservative would-be constituents step into the ballot box. Although his dad supports his first foray into politics, Turner said he didn’t expect him to join the campaign.
“I think politically we are dissimilar enough that I’m not sure it would benefit me,” Turner said. “He knows our goals are the same. We want a better planet. We want a better country.”
The younger Turner, his father’s oldest child, graduated from South Carolina's military college, The Citadel, and went on to work in the then-Soviet Union with CNN. After returning to the United States, Turner held positions both with Turner Broadcasting System and Country Music Television before moving to Charleston, S.C., 13 years ago.
He ran several businesses and worked with underprivileged children at the South Carolina Maritime Foundation before becoming an economics teacher at the Charleston Collegiate School, a private school near Charleston.
Hacker Burr, the head of the school, from which Turner is taking a sabbatical, said the teacher-turned-politician is not afraid to engage in political issues: “He wears his heart on his sleeve so it was not a surprise to me that he would want to jump in and see if he could effect real change on a bigger scale.”
Of all the challenges facing the nation, Turner said the ballooning federal budget deficit concerned him most. He added that watching Washington politicians bicker over the issue for years and doing nothing about it finally pushed him over the edge. “There is a window of opportunity to talk common sense before it all starts to scatter and shatter,” Turner said. “We have a short time to do that. The politicians are not getting it done.”
The primary is scheduled for March 19. Most pundits predict the race will end up in a runoff, and many expect Sanford to make it at least that far, given his name recognition. If he does, he could end up giving the race to whomever his opponent turns out to be. Given the bitter feelings many voters still have toward the former governor, his opponent likely will benefit from a large number of anti-Sanford votes.