Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has won his House primary runoff, setting up a high-profile special election against businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D), the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.
The win is the latest step in Sanford's rehabilitation after an extramarital affair derailed his political career in 2009 — but his biggest test lies ahead in the Republican-leaning district.
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."
National Republicans have promised to attack Colbert Busch for receiving donations from unions that opposed Boeing's plans to open a plant in the Charleston area and for supporting parts of ObamaCare. Whether or not they succeed in nationalizing the race and painting her as a run-of-the-mill Democrat could determine who wins the election, as Sanford's sky-high unfavorable numbers are cemented in voters' minds.
“South Carolina families clearly deserve a continuation of the strong fiscal discipline displayed by now-Senator Tim Scott and will greatly benefit from Sanford’s fiscal hawk approach,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.
“Without a doubt, Mark Sanford will campaign tirelessly to grow South Carolina jobs and work to get our nation’s massive spending problem under control,” Walden said.
This story was updated at 9:17 p.m.