The US television satirist Stephen Colbert generated an array of headlines (and, one imagines, more than a handful of new viewers for his Comedy Central show) when he announced a run for the presidency in 2008 – all in the name of parodying the absurdity of American politics.
But now a Colbert might well end up in Washington DC, after the comedian’s sister, the university executive Elizabeth Colbert Busch, clinched the Democratic nomination for a special election to pick the Congressional representative from the state’s first district.
The vote comes after Tim Scott, a Republican who used to hold the House of Representatives seat, was sent to the Senate by the right-leaning state’s governor, Nikki Haley, to fill the vacancy that came about following Jim Demint’s resignation. The district is strongly Republican. In 2010, Mr Scott was elected with 65 per cent of the vote.
The name of Ms Colbert Busch’s rival will be settled following an April run-off between the leading Republican candidates, including Mark Sanford, best known to the wider world as the former South Carolina governor who, in an televised press conference in 2009, admitted having an extra-marital affair with an Argentine mistress after he was caught lying about his whereabouts. Mr Sanford had apparently told his staff and colleagues he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was, in fact, visiting his lover in Buenos Aires.
The episode ended his marriage – he is now engaged to his former mistress, the journalist Maria Chapur – and left him out of favour with his Republican Party colleagues and voters.
But he made a comeback this week when he qualified for the run-off, comfortably leading the field of potential Republican candidates for the Congressional seat with nearly 37 per cent of the vote.
Mr Sanford reportedly asked his ex-wife to run his campaign – an offer she declined. If he is nominated next month, Ms Colbert Busch’s brother is likely to exploit the politician’s past travails to the fullest extent possible as he campaigns for his sister.
The comedian has already shed the faux-Republican persona he dons to front his television show to support his sister, telling CNN: “I’m willing to, you know, break the jewel of my own creation to try to do something for her.
“I’m not worried what it would do to me or my show to try to help her as myself, not as my character, and to help her as myself.”
Hinting at the kinds of barbs that might be in store if Mr Sanford is selected as the Republican candidate, Colbert referred to his sister’s potential rival as “the former governor of the Appalachian Trail”.
“I will make jokes about him,” he said. But Colbert, who, in an attempt to satirise the influence of big money on US politics set up his own super-PAC fund-raising organisation, promises to do the same with his sister. He added: “I said [to her] if you do something funny, I’ll make jokes about you.”
When CNN reporter’s Jake Tapper replied with “but she won’t...”, Colbert insisted: “Sure she will – she’s now a politician.”