Run ‘Em All & Let God Sort ‘Em Out

This year’s fun special congressional election, in South Carolina’s primevally conservative First Congressional District, featured a vast Republican primary field of 16 candidates all trying to out-conservative–and in some cases, outspend–each other. But after the votes were counted in the low-turnout event last night, former governor, former congressman, and former disgraced adulterer Mark Sanford had as expected cruised to a runoff spot two weeks from now, with a name-ID driven 37% of the vote.

A lot of money was apparently wasted by two big spenders in the contest: media scion Teddy Turner, a high school economics teacher who finished fourth; and state legislator Chip Limehouse, who spent close to half a mil to finish seventh.

But Sanford’s runoff opponent (barring a shocking reversal from an automatic recount required on behalf of close third-place finisher Larry Grooms) didn’t spend much at all: former Charleston city councilman Curtis Bostic, who rode Christian Right and Tea Party connections and a well-known friendship with the pol this election replaces–Sen. Tim Scott–to eke out a second-place showing with about 13% of the vote.

The name of the Almighty will be very frequently invoked, if not taken in vain, in the runoff, since Sanford’s whole pitch is that he’s a living testament to the “God of second chances,” while Bostic attributes his success to a more straightforward exercise of “God’s grace.” It will be interesting: on the one hand, the very righteous Bostic, whose family is involved in various faith-based charities he runs, offers a perfect personal contrast to the slick Sanford, whose Argentinian fiancee has given South Carolina a very wide berth so far. But on the other hand, Bostic has aggressively eschewed “negative campaigning.” So the nastiness, a Palmetto State speciality, will mostly be either under the radar or undertaken by shadowy “outsiders.” And it would probably take an intra-right-wing bloodbath to give any real chance to Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the comedian’s sister, in this heavily Republican district.

UPDATE: Commenter bluewave has a point: Democrat Linda Ketner did indeed win 48% of the vote in the 1st district in 2008 against then-incumbent Henry Brown, who had showed weakness in 2006 by failing to clear 60% (Democrats didn’t even run candidates in 2002 or 2004). So perhaps a nasty runoff capped by a Sanford win could create an opening for Busch, who should be pretty well-financed. But I would note that Democratic turnout in an off-year special election in May isn’t likely to be anything like that which benefitted Ketner in a presidential year when Obama had created an unusual amount of excitement in SC. And the district has a PPV of +11 Republican. Still, I shouldn’t have been quite so dismissive of Busch’s chances.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.