Mark Sanford takes plurality in SC special election for congressional seat, now faces runoff

Nothing says “let’s change Washington” like re-electing a disgraced former Congressman who vowed to serve only three terms before tossing his hat in the ring again this year.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial results show Sanford received about 37 percent of the vote in the southern coastal district. It was unclear who he would face in the April 2 GOP runoff.

Former Charleston County councilman Curtis Bostic held a slim lead over state Sen. Larry Grooms for second place. But the margin is so narrow, less than one percent, that it will trigger an automatic recount. Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, trailed Bostic and Grooms.

The eventual Republican candidate will square off in the May 7 general election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. She won the Democratic primary for the seat, handily defeating perennial candidate Ben Frasier.

Actually, there won’t be an automatic recount between the second- and third-place finishers. Grooms, who finished with 12 percent, conceded this morning to Bostic, who finished with 13. Question for South Carolina politcos: Is there even a remote chance that Bostic will pull the upset on Sanford in the runoff? It’s not impossible for a candidate who finishes second in the first round of the primary to win the election. David Dewhurst beat Ted Cruz by 10 points in the first round in Texas last year; Cruz ended up crushing him in the runoff by 16, partly because the anti-Dewhurst vote consolidated behind him (and partly, of course, because he became a cause celebre among grassroots conservatives nationally). Sanford had way, way, way more name recognition than any of his opponents last night and still couldn’t get to 40 percent, so there’s obviously some anti-Sanford sentiment out there.

What I want to know from people who watch the state is whether there’s enough to propel Bostic to victory. He’s a lawyer and a former Marine, is popular among evangelicals and home-schoolers, and founded a nonprofit that does charity work for people under oppressive regimes but his experience in government is limited to two terms on the Charleston city council. Will all of that get him to 51 percent against a two-term governor, three-term Congressman, and once-upon-a-time potential presidential nominee, even with anti-Sanfordites turning out? I’m skeptical but willing to be corrected.

Either way, though, don’t worry about Colbert’s sister in the general election. She’ll have plenty of money for ads but the district hasn’t elected a Democrat in more than 30 years. Last night she won her primary with a bit less than 16,000 votes against a single opponent who barely charted. Sanford won the Republican primary with nearly 4,000 more votes than that despite facing a field of 15 candidates, some of them credible. Overall, more than 40,000 Republicans turned out to vote. The general election is a foregone conclusion. Is the runoff, though?