Disgraced former Governor Mark Sanford easily won the runoff election for the Republican nomination in South Carolina's First Congressional District. He will face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Steve Colbert, in the special election next month.
The former governor's runoff win seemed likely as of two weeks ago, when he finished more than 20 percentage points ahead of Bostic in the first round of voting. Bostic got off to a slow start in the two-week primary runoff, hampered by a lack of funds, and while he secured some high-profile endorsements, including from former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), he didn't have the time or money to give Sanford a serious challenge.
The district is heavily Republican -- Mitt Romney won it with 58 percent of the vote -- but Colbert Busch has run a strong campaign so far, focused on her business career. National Republicans admit that Sanford's baggage and the unpredictability of special elections mean this race could go either way.
Recent polls reflect that reality: An internal poll from Colbert Busch's campaign and one from the Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling found her with a narrow lead over Sanford. While many more Republicans were undecided in both polls and are more likely to vote for Sanford, he'll have to work hard to win the May 7 general election.
Colbert Busch's campaign was quick to slam Sanford following his primary win.
"The families of this district need a representative who they can trust," Colbert Busch campaign spokesman James Smith said. "Mark Sanford simply has the wrong values for our community -- whether that's his terms as Governor or the last time he was in Congress, where he opposed commonsense measures like the Violence Against Women Act, which provides shelters and resources for domestic violence survivors. On issue after issue, Mark Sanford doesn't reflect the values of South Carolina."
Despite the huge GOP advantage. Republicans are not confident. Colbert Busch's mention of "trust" will be a huge issue, given Sanford's bizarre behavior that led to his resignation. The former governor has problems with women, with rank and file Republicans, and the GOP establishment. Not one single sitting South Carolina Republican congressman has endorsed him.
The concern among national Republicans that Colbert Busch could steal the 1st Congressional District seat is so real that they're prepared to do whatever it takes to shepherd the former Republican governor to victory -- including dumping cash into the race, sources told POLITICO. But Sanford forces will have a hard time overwhelming Colbert Busch in the competition for dollars: Her brother is going all out to raise cash for his older sister.
"This race is by no means a slam dunk for Republicans," said one national GOP official. "If anyone says they know how this race is going to play out, they're kidding themselves."
Operatives from both parties agree the race is Sanford's to lose. The district is solid Republican territory and Sanford, despite his flaws, is a gifted retail politician who is universally known. While Colbert Busch's campaign wasted no time Tuesday night calling Sanford untrustworthy and anti-woman, Sanford framed the general election as a clash of ideologies between a small government conservative and a pro-union liberal.
Still, polling already shows him in a neck-and-neck battle and the warning signs for Sanford -- who needed two elections to secure the GOP nomination despite running against a field of relative unknowns -- can't be glossed over.
As much as is possible, the Democrats will seek to link Sanford to the national Republican party. Turnout will be key, but with the GOP vote likely supressed by many Republicans staying home Busch has a real shot to score an upset and royally embarass national Republicans.