On Tuesday, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford faces another potential speed bump on his road to redemption when voters choose between him and former Charleston County Council member Curtis Bostic for the Republican nomination in the state's 1st Congressional District.
Sanford is considered the heavy favorite in Tuesday's special primary runoff election, having outraised Bostic by more than 15-1 in the weeks leading up to the March 19 primary. That cash advantage has allowed Sanford to blanket the airwaves with ads touting his fiscal responsibility, while Bostic has been forced to run a much leaner campaign.
But given the unpredictability of turnout for a special election—especially a runoff that comes just two days after Easter Sunday—and the fervency of support Bostic enjoys in the evangelical and home school communities, the former county council member could pull off another surprise victory.
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Sanford defeated 15 candidates in the Republican primary election just two weeks ago, but he failed to top 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff with Bostic, the second-place finisher. Sanford received 37 percent of the vote to Bostic's 13 percent. Six of the other candidates, who brought in a total of just over 7 percent of the vote, have since backed Sanford, while only one, former state Sen. John Kuhn, who received 6.5 percent of the vote and reportedly had a terrible relationship with Sanford while in the state Senate, has lined up behind Bostic.
Bostic has pulled in a few high-profile backers in recent days, touting the endorsements of former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. (who came in third in the state's 2012 presidential primary), singer Pat Boone, and former GOP Rep. Henry Brown, who held the seat for 10 years. Brown’s replacement, Tim Scott, vacated the seat in January to accept an appointment to replace Jim DeMint, R-S.C., in the U.S. Senate, and has said he will not endorse anyone in the runoff.
In some ways, Bostic is the perfect foil for Sanford, who left office just two years ago after a sex scandal and censure by the state’s General Assembly. By contrast, Bostic is a radio personality on several gospel stations in the Charleston area who has emphasized his Christian faith and values, frequently featuring his wife of 25 years and children in his few television spots. Republican operatives in the state have wondered whether some voters will oppose Sanford solely because of his highly publicized affair and, given that the two candidates seldom differ on policy, Bostic seems perfectly poised to attract them.
Sanford has much more experience in elective politics, having served two terms as governor and another six years in Congress, representing the same seat he hopes to recapture in a general election next month. Bostic, meanwhile, served just two terms on the county council before returning to his law practice and his work with several Christian nonprofits.
Whoever wins Tuesday’s GOP runoff will face Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democratic nominee, on May 7. Colbert Busch, who has had fundraising help from her high-profile brother, Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert, has had the benefit of running with just token opposition for months. Should Sanford become the Republican nominee, Colbert Busch is likely to benefit from an influx of cash from outside Democratic groups, who will attempt to use him to boost national fundraising by painting Sanford as a typical Republican who has lost his way with voters, particularly women.
Although Democrats are confident that Colbert Busch can win—particularly against Sanford—the district is solidly Republican: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defeated President Obama there by 18 points in November. But her campaign released a new internal poll on Monday showing Colbert Busch defeating Sanford by 47 percent to 44 percent and Bostic by 48 percent to 39 percent. The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted by the Democratic firm Lake Research Partners from March 25-27 and represents the only live-caller polling to be released publicly since the March primary.