Sanford, Colbert Busch Square Off in South Carolina Debate

Sparks fly as Colbert Busch brings up Sanford’s infidelity.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, right, shakes hands with Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch during the 1st Congressional District debate on Monday, April 29, 2013, in Charleston, S.C.
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The philandering fiscal conservative and the hard-charging Democratic businesswoman faced off before a fired up crowd Monday in the only debate in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District special election.

The race pits former Gov. Mark Sanford, who famously lied about taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail while he was actually courting his Argentine mistress (and now fiancee) in her home country, versus Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister to comedian Stephen Colbert.

[READ: South Carolina Race Pits Sanford Against Colbert Busch]

Colbert Busch pulled few punches against Sanford, who awkwardly pretended to miss her jab about his time in Argentina.

"When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose," she said to whoops from the audience.

"I couldn't hear what she said, repeat it," Sanford said.

When someone from the audience shouted, "Answer the question," Sanford replied, "What was the question? OK, but anyway, on the sequester - I'll go back to the sequester."

[READ: Mark Sanford's Apology: God Will Make Me Better]

Later, he tried to acknowledge moral misgivings voters in the heavily Republican district might have for him.

"Do you think President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake he made in his life?" Sanford said. "You don't go through the experiences I had without a greater level of humility."

Sanford, who trails Colbert Busch by as much as 9 percent in recent polling, tried to land blows against the political neophyte for being bought by labor groups and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both of whom have given hundreds of thousands to her campaign. But Colbert Busch offered a firm rebuke of his suggestion.

"I want to be very clear, Mark, nobody tells me what to do, except the people of South Carolina's 1st District," she said.

The pair sparred on a number of local and federal issues, taking opposing sides on gay marriage, the pending immigration legislation and parts of the 2010 federal health care reform law. But Colbert Busch seemed to surprise Sanford when the Democrat said she was "proud" to live in a right-to-work state despite accepting union donations.

Sanford worked to pound home his record of opposing government spending and identified his "consistent willingness to lead in fiscal matters" as his top professional accomplishment. Colbert Busch referred to herself as a "tough, independent businesswoman" and cited her support for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce position on immigration reform to bolster her business credentials.

The election is scheduled for May 7.

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