CHARLESTON — Mark Sanford says he believes in “a God of second chances,” and now the former South Carolina governor has taken the first step toward reviving a political career that was derailed by an extramarital affair.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, always dreamed of a career in politics – and now she has a chance to realize that dream.
As Sanford advanced Tuesday night to an April 2 GOP runoff for an open congressional seat in a southern coastal district, Colbert Busch easily won the Democratic primary to earn a spot on the May 7 general election ballot.
The race has drawn national attention because of Sanford's well-known fall from grace and Colbert Busch's relationship to Stephen Colbert, who parodies a conservative political commentator as host of TV's “The Colbert Report.”
Colbert Busch swamped perennial candidate Ben Frasier on Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination for the seat vacated by Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate to replace fellow Republican Jim DeMint, now head of The Heritage Foundation.
She says she's long dreamed of a career in politics. She remembers watching the 1968 funeral of slain U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy on television with her younger brother Stephen sitting in her lap. That's when she promised herself that one day she would run for office.
She is currently on leave from her job as director of business development for Clemson University's Wind Turbine Drive Testing Facility in North Charleston.
Colbert Busch now faces the winner of the GOP primary runoff in the 1st Congressional District.
“I understand your frustrations and your aspirations. I will never stop listening to you and I am ready to be your voice in Washington,” Colbert Bush told her supporters Tuesday night.
“My pledge is to you. You are my only cause. I will fight to improve your lives and the lives of your children,” she added.
Sanford, trying to mount a political comeback, easily outdistanced the other 15 Republicans in the field Tuesday. But with only 37 percent of the vote, he finds himself in a runoff.
The Republican campaign was driven more by personality than debate over party direction, with most candidates boasting their conservative credibility.
Unofficial results showed former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic in second place, but the margin is so narrow – less than 1 percent over state Sen. Larry Grooms – that it will trigger an automatic recount this week. Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, finished fourth.
Wednesday, Grooms essentially conceded. He said he'd sent congratulatory messages late Tuesday to Sanford and Bostic, but added that he wouldn't seek to stop the automatic recount.
“The margin is too big to recover from, but state law will still govern the mandatory recount,” Grooms said Wednesday. “It's highly, highly unlikely that any errors could overturn a 400-vote margin.”
Tuesday was Sanford's first run for office since a 2009 scandal in which he acknowledged an affair. After disappearing and telling his staff he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail, he returned to the state to reveal that he was in Argentina with his mistress. Sanford and his wife Jenny divorced, and he is now engaged to the Argentine woman.
“Are you ready to change things in Washington?” Sanford, flanked by his four sons, asked a boisterous crowd at a restaurant in Charleston's historic district. “I'm incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support we have seen tonight.”
Earlier Tuesday, Sanford said it was “a treat and a blessing” to be back on the ballot. He represented the district in Congress for three terms before he was elected governor, serving two terms.
“We all hope for a second chance. I believe in a God of second chances,” Sanford said after voting Tuesday.
Whether against Sanford, Grooms or Bostic, Colbert Busch would appear to have an uphill battle in the May 7 special election in the strongly Republican district.
Last fall, Mitt Romney won the conservative district by 18 percentage points, although he beat President Barack Obama by 10 percentage points statewide.
The district reaches from the sea islands with million-dollar oceanfront homes northeast of Charleston to southwest along the coast to the gated communities of Hilton Head Island, with its many Yankee transplants. When Sanford ran in the 1990s, the district reached into more conservative Horry County, but that area has been split and is now part of another district.