Mark Sanford won the runoff election and the Republican nomination to replace now-Senator Tim Scott in South Carolina’s 1st CD, with a special election in a little under five weeks against Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch next on the horizon. Sanford’s convincing win even in a low-turnout runoff would normally give the GOP some confidence in such a red Congressional district, but Politico reports that Republicans are even more worried now about the prospects for holding the seat.  Five years ago, Sanford imploded in a personal scandal that arguably couldn’t have been handled any worse than Sanford did in attempting to deal with it, and they’re getting worried that it might happen again:

Mark Sanford won over primary voters Tuesday night, but national Republicans aren’t celebrating: Many privately concede the former governor could hand a safe Republican seat to Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

The affair that sent Sanford’s political career off the rails only begins to describe his baggage.

Fellow GOP pols don’t like him. Neither do female voters.His campaign is largely an exercise in seeking forgiveness for his transgressions four years ago — a defensive crouch that makes it tricky to take the fight to Colbert Busch, the sister of late-night comedian Stephen Colbert.

National Journal reports that this won’t be a slam-dunk for the GOP, but that may end up playing into Sanford’s favor:

Those two factors apply to the upcoming South Carolina Congressional contest pitting former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert Busch.  It’s a matchup for the ages:  Sanford, who famously lied about hiking on the Appalachian Trail while cheating on his wife in Argentina, and Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.  Even if this race wasn’t competitive, there would still be political reporters flocking to Charleston to catch a celebrity sideshow.  But aside from the spectacle, it’s shaping up to be one hell of a barnburner. …

Stu Rothenberg, one of the sharpest election analysts, wrote an article Tuesday downplaying the significance of the internal polling showing Colbert-Busch ahead, mocking the poll memo’s cherrypicked findings. But picking apart an optimistic polling memo is missing the forest for the trees.  For a Democratic candidate to even be polling competitively in a solidly-Republican district (R+11 PVI, per the Cook Political Report) suggests something is seriously amiss.  It’s even more striking when the Republican candidate is as well-defined as Sanford – the numbers aren’t a reflection of one candidate’s name identification advantage.

Sure, Colbert Busch’s personal favorability is artificially high since she hasn’t faced many Republican attacks — yet.  That will change now that Sanford is the nominee. Expect Republicans to carpet-bomb the district with ads portraying her as an out-of-touch liberal.   They recognize Sanford is far from a lock to win the seat, and won’t take anything for granted.

In other words, this may wind up forcing the GOP to spend a lot of money in South Carolina that they may not have otherwise committed.  Sanford has done a pretty good job in lining up cash for his comeback effort, but going up against Colbert Busch and Stephen Colbert’s fundraising abilities means that national Republican organizations will have to get into the game to keep from an embarrassing loss — even if they’re not happy about the outcome of the primary.

Politico believes that Sanford’s scandal will make it more difficult for him to go on the attack against Colbert Busch:

The fact that his opponent is a woman further complicates Sanford’s task.

“It’s going to be virtually impossible for Mark Sanford to attack Colbert Busch. It’s extremely tricky political territory for several reasons,” said Hogan Gidley, a former South Carolina Republican Party executive director.

“One, Sanford can’t effectively execute an apology tour and consistently be on the attack. Two, any political attack on Colbert Busch would be used against Sanford and the party as proof of a perceived ‘war on women.’ Three, we have a huge problem right now with the women vote – so any candidate perceived to be one who disregards women is going to face issues getting votes. Sanford could overcome these things, but it will be very difficult in the current political climate.”

That means national GOP groups such as the National Republican Congressional Committee will have to do the dirty work on Sanford’s behalf, Republicans say. Party officials say Sanford’s weaknesses make it incumbent on outside forces to drive up Colbert Busch’s negatives.

I’m not so sure about that.  For one thing, in an R+11 district, the real trick was getting Republicans to trust him enough with the nomination.  He came out of the first round with 37% of the vote in a 16-way race, which one could have chalked up to simple name recognition.  When presented a binary choice, though, Sanford won 56% of the Republican vote in a low turnout that should have favored his opponent, Curtis Bostic.  Sanford went on offense against Bostic during the campaign while offering his apologies for the personal scandal, and seems to have succeeded — at least so far.

Furthermore, Colbert Busch has some real weaknesses, especially her ties to the unions that tried to close the Boeing expansion in the state, and her liberal stances on social issues in a socially conservative state.  Even if it’s not Sanford doing the attacking, she’s going to look a lot less representative of an R+11 district at the end of five weeks.  Colbert Busch and her allies will almost certainly play the “picking on a woman” card, but how well will that play in an R+11 district? If her brother jumps in with both feet and goes on the attack against Sanford — as he probably will — then that damsel-in-distress strategy is going to look hypocritical and silly.

Sanford wasted no time in shifting his runoff strategy to the general election the day after winning the nomination.  He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and talked a little about dealing with the scandal, but spent at least as much time framing Colbert Busch as a novelty celebrity-once-removed candidate whose famous brother won’t be on the ticket.  That sounds like a pretty good start for an offense: