Elizabeth Colbert Busch has lost at least one election, against some very stiff competition: a vote among the eight Colbert siblings, including her comedian brother Stephen, to decide who's the funniest.
Even Stephen lost, it turned out.
"My sister Mary won," she said in a 15-minute phone interview with POLITICO on Friday. "Everybody has a really great Irish sense of humor about them."
It's safe to say Colbert Busch hopes her nascent campaign for Congress will turn out differently.
With a fundraising hand from her faux-conservative newscaster brother, the Democrat and university administrator is running for a House seat in an upcoming South Carolina special election. The potential general election matchup could be made for comedians like her famous sibling: Colbert Busch is likely to face off against scandal-plagued former Gov. Mark Sanford.
The district leans Republican, but it's not a lost cause for Colbert Busch, operatives on both sides say -- especially if Sanford is the Republican nominee.
Stephen Colbert has made a go-to routine out of flirting with his own bids for public office -- he's joked about running for president and senator, and his 2012 super PAC raised more than $1 million. But Colbert Busch says her campaign to join the House of Representatives that her brother has mocked so mercilessly is serious business.
"With all due respect," she said, "I have worked very hard in this district."
She said her experience in the shipping industry and as a business development head at Clemson University makes her uniquely qualified to represent the coastal-based 1st Congressional District.
"This is our time," said Colbert Busch, who, unlike Stephen, pronounces her last name with a hard "t."
Though Colbert Busch has never run for public office before, she said she's long wanted to get into politics. So when former Republican Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to the Senate in December, she decided to take the plunge. She said she caught the political bug at age 6, when her father headed up Physicians for Kennedy.
The candidate and her brother have long been close, part of a large, tight-knit family that used humor to heal life's pains. And those pains have been considerable.
In 1974, when she was 19 and a sophomore in college, her father and two of her brothers were killed in a plane crash. In 2000, one of her brothers died as a result of illness. And in Sept. 2001, Colbert Busch, then the director of sales and marketing for a shipping company, was working in an office building in lower Manhattan when, across the street, two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center.
Colbert Busch's first marriage -- to a man who was once featured on "America's Most Wanted" and was eventually convicted of securities fraud -- ended in divorce. It left her as a single mom of three children.
The candidate has adopted a philosophical approach to life's struggles. Her view, a friend said, "is that life is good; life is beautiful; and you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other."
In the interview, Colbert Busch betrayed the kind of biting sense of humor that's made Stephen a household name. Asked when she wanted to enter politics, the 58-year-old responded: "Let me be pithy with you: 58 years and two seconds ago."
Stephen, who has a home in Charleston, S.C., and is 10 years Colbert Busch's junior, is using his star power to help his sister. The comedian is slated to host two fundraisers for her -- one in New York, the other in South Carolina. And he recently plugged her candidacy on his popular Comedy Central show, "The Colbert Report," disclosing her childhood nickname, "Lulu."
"As a broadcast journalist, I am obligated to maintain pure objectivity," he deadpanned. "It doesn't matter that my sister is intelligent, hardworking, compassionate and dedicated to the people of South Carolina. I will not be mentioning any of that on my show."
Said Colbert Busch, "He's my little brother. Of course he's helping my campaign."
Not every candidate gets that kind of free publicity and access to a national audience of potential donors.
"His public exposure is a help to the campaign," she said. "I can't put a number on it. All I can tell you is that I appreciate his support."
Still, there are bound to be questions about how her brother's liberal politics will play in Republican-friendly South Carolina. Mitt Romney trounced President Barack Obama by 18 points in the district, which became slightly more conservative after the latest round of redistricting.
It's a good bet that Republicans will try to affix the same liberal label to Colbert Busch -- and perhaps for that reason she is trying to define herself on her own terms. In the interview, she resisted characterizing her politics; instead, she emphasized her background in the maritime industry and work for Clemson University, a major employer in the district.
She serves as the business director at the school's Restoration Institute, which works to develop environmentally sustainable technology. Her work experience, she said, has given her a deep understanding of the local economy and what it takes to bring jobs to the region.
Colbert Busch is the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Her main primary opponent dropped out last week, and on Saturday, she secured the endorsement of Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, the dean of the state's delegation and the highest-ranking African-American member of the House.
Republicans acknowledge that Colbert Busch could make a race of it. Sanford, the hobbled former governor, is making a comeback attempt after his dissembling four years ago about an extramarital affair short-circuited his once-promising political career. With universal name ID -- half the battle in a low-turnout special election -- Sanford is regarded as the front-runner in the Republican primary.
Colbert Busch, who is remarried, declined to weigh in on Sanford's troubles, saying her sole focus is on winning her party's nomination in the March 19 primary.
If there's one thing Colbert Busch wants to make clear, though, it's that she rejects the idea that she's a contender in the race because of her last name, or that she's hanging her hopes on her brother's celebrity.
The Gazette now offers Facebook Comments on its stories. You must be logged into your Facebook account to add comments. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal page, uncheck the box below the comment. Comments deemed offensive by the moderators will be removed, and commenters who persist may be banned from commenting on the site.