The South Carolina special election for Sen. Tim Scott’s vacated House seat is hovering dangerously over tossup territory after some — er — unfortunate turns for the Sanford campaign, and Monday night, he and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch duked it out in the only debate before the May 7th election. It went… well, pretty predictably, actually, when Colbert Busch called out the elephant in the room towards the beginning of the event:

COLBERT BUSCH: The sequester was $85 billion. When we talk about getting our fiscal house in order, we need to look at everything, from cutting spending to what are our costs. So, during the time when we’re having all this fiscal spending, fiscal cutting, and back to the days where everybody had a furlough in the state, everybody was losing their jobs and we were pulling our belts in, when we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn’t mean you take that money we’ve saved and leave the country for a personal purpose.

MODERATOR: She went there, Governor Sanford.

SANFORD: I couldn’t hear what she said. Repeat it, I didn’t hear, I’m sorry.

COLBERT BUSCH: Answer the question.

SANFORD: What was the question? Okay, but anyway, on the sequester, I’ll go back to sequester. Here’s the problem with sequester, which is, I think it’s a real problem to not be specific on spending cuts, because all the people supporting you, those 37 members of Congress, consistently fought against me when I tried to infuse spending discipline in Washington, D.C. I mean, with all due respect to Nancy Pelosi, whose name I will raise again… with all due respect to her and others, they have not pushed for financial discipline in Washington, D.C. …

Of course, she twisted her answer to be able to get in that early shot, and I suppose a quick laugh and then moving-right-along avoidance isn’t the worst way to handle it, but the issue came up again when Sanford managed to turn a question about whether or not he would vote again to impeach President Clinton (gee, I wonder why they threw that one in the mix) into a unsubtle framing of his own situation: “I would reverse the question to you, and I would say this: Do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake he made in his life?” …Woof.

Sanford did land some hits — he threw a lot of “unions” and “Pelosi” into his answers, a smart way to make the race about the Republican Us v. the Democratic Them, rather than about Sanford v. Colbert Busch personally — but Colbert Busch had a pretty solid showing, even throwing in some serious reservations about ObamaCare, and the man could have really used a knockout. I’m not convinced this was it.

“I rocked it,” Colbert Busch said following Monday’s 75-minute debate before an audience of about 500 at The Citadel, which was telecast on C-SPAN. Sanford, a former two-term governor trying to revive a political career damaged by an extramarital affair, said he would let the pundits decide who won.