Mark Sanford asked South Carolina voters for their forgiveness, and — so far — enough said yes.
The state's former governor, who left office in disgrace two years ago after a high-profile extramarital affair in 2009, took a big step toward resurrecting his political career Tuesday, finishing first in a crowded Republican special-election primary to fill the House seat vacated by Tim Scott's December appointment to the Senate.
Mr. Sanford said he was "truly humbled" by the election results, in which he won 37 percent of the votes -- the most out of 16 Republicans on the ballot.
"These results show that the 1st [Congressional] District wants a congressman who will stand up to big spenders, regardless of party, and who has a record of doing so," Mr. Sanford said. "Over the next two weeks, we plan to continue doing exactly what we've been doing -- making the case directly to voters that while others may talk about cutting spending, I've done it."
Because no Republican candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote, Mr. Sanford will be in a two-person runoff April 2, likely against Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston County Council member. Mr. Bostic finished second with about 13 percent of the vote, but his margin over state Sen. Larry Grooms was less than 1 percentage point, triggering an automatic recount.
Mr. Grooms has conceded defeat but the recount will take place Friday regardless.
On the Democratic side, the Republican winner will face Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of TV political satirist Stephen Colbert, who won almost 96 percent of the vote.
"I understand your frustrations and your aspirations. I will never stop listening to you and I am ready to be your voice in Washington," Mrs. Colbert Busch told her supporters Tuesday night.
While Republicans in recent years have dominated in the coastal South Carolina district, which includes Charleston, Mrs. Colbert Busch is considered a formidable opponent for the GOP primary winner. The general election is May 7.
Another candidate with ties to a celebrity family member, Teddy Turner -- son of CNN creator Ted Turner -- finished fourth in the GOP field with 8 percent of the vote.
Mr. Sanford once was a rising star in the Republican Party who was whispered as a possible 2012 presidential candidate. But his reputation and career unraveled after he went AWOL for several days in 2009.
He initially told his staff that he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but instead secretly flew to Buenos Aires to visit his Argentine mistress -- a woman who now is his fiancee. When the truth quickly became public, he was ridiculed nationally. His wife soon filed for divorce and published a memoir describing the embarrassing ordeal.
Yet he refused to resign from the second term of his governorship despite heavy pressure to do so.
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