South Carolina heads to the polls Tuesday to vote in the Republican run-off in the race to replace Rep. Tim Scott. The race could potentially offer former Gov. Mark Sanford a return to politics.
Sanford came in first in a 16-candidate Republican primary two weeks ago, but only secured 37% of the vote – short of the 50% needed to secure the nomination. The run-off pits him against second-place winner, former Charleston City Councilman Curtis Bostic. As we await results, here are the five keys to the high-profile race.
1. Vegas odds are on the comeback kid: With a big money edge and name recognition, it is Mark Sanford’s moment to lose. Sanford did very, very well in the primary, and little has happened in the district since then. There have been three (mostly) polite debates where they (mostly) agreed on issues. Sanford did well across the board for the most part in the primary—the peninsula, the wealthy suburb of Mt. Pleasant, barrier islands, and rural areas, and has spent a lot of time sewing up important backing in Beaufort. He has a great homespun “fiscal conservative” sign gimmick—in short, he’s poised for a return.
2. Sanford’s fertile ground: This race is in Charleston, not Greenville. Even if it weren’t Sanford’s home, it is probably the best part of the state for him to run in. Charleston is a unique place, at once conservative but also the most fashionable and arts-centric part of the state. And though Sanford has said he was like ”the Tea Party before the Tea Party was cool,” it’s Curtis Bostic who seems to have better Tea Party bona-fides. While that plays well upstate, it’s likely less of a factor in the low-country.
3. Don’t forget the underdog: Make no mistake, Curtis Bostic is an underdog. Few people were talking about him in the national press days before the primary, but he ran an impressive ground game to edge out guys with more money and name recognition. He held his own in debates, while throwing barbs about Sanford’s past.
4. Curtis Bostic’s conservative cred: Jennifer Rubin called Bostic the Distinguished Pol of the Week. Ann Coulter has called Mark Sanford the “Todd Akin” of South Carolina. Bostic got a high profile campaign appearance from Rick Santorum, who admittedly did not do well in South Carolina in his presidential primary. Bostic has also gotten backing from Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, former Charleston congressman Henry Brown, and dozens of local pastors. That’s important if you’re running a presidential primary or a city council race in the Holy City. Sanford has his own high profile backers, like Erick Erickson and a half dozen endorsements from six minor candidates who ran in the Republican primary, but combined they earned just 10% of the vote from that race, and their endorsements may not carry much sway. The other primary big dogs have not come out for either candidate publicly. Will Republicans hold their nose and vote for Sanford, go for Bostic, or just stay home?
5. The Colbert Busch factor: While the primary has earned plenty of press, the real race will come in May against Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Her message has been simple, disciplined, and consistent. Bostic has repeatedly warned that Democrats’ could retake the seat—for the first time in 30 years—if Sanford is nominated. Two left-leaning polls have Elizabeth Colbert Busch in serious play or leading against both candidates. Busch’s national buzz grew in large part thanks to her younger brother, Stephen. He will host two high-priced events in her honor in D.C. and New York later this month, alongside Democratic DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Al Franken, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, far away from the imposing mansions of the Battery and its cutthroat politics.