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Sanford moves step closer to political redemption with runoff win

Bruce Smith / AP

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford answers questions from reporters after voting in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, April 2, 2013.

Scandal-tarred former governor Mark Sanford moved one step closer to political redemption on Tuesday, winning a special Republican primary runoff and setting the stage for a showdown with Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch for a seat in Congress to represent South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. 

Fueled by his high name recognition and fund raising advantage, Sanford defeated former Charleston County Council member Curtis Bostic to become the Republican nominee for the hotly contested open seat, the Associated Press declared.

Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, surrounded by family, his fiancee, and supporters, celebrates his runoff win, promising to bring conservative ideas to Washington D.C. if he wins the Congressional seat.

"While God may be a God of second chances, in times voters are a little bit less forgiving, and in that regard it has been an amazing journey," Sanford told supporters gathered at a victory party in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

On March 19, Sanford earned 37 percent of the vote to beat out 15 other candidates in the Republican primary. Because he failed to break the 50 percent threshold, he faced a runoff with Bostic, the second-place finisher.

Attention now turns to the high-profile contest between Sanford — the former governor of the state who became a national punchline after attempting to sneak off to Argentina to visit his mistress — and Colbert Busch, a former businesswoman and sister of satirist Stephen Colbert.

Sanford represented the coastal district from 1995 to 2001 before occupying the governor's mansion in Columbia. The seat opened in December after Gov. Nikki Haley appointed congressman Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate, to fill the seat left vacated by Jim DeMint who abruptly jumped ship to head a conservative think tank.

Despite Sanford's tumultuous tenure as governor, he is still largely seen as the early front runner in the traditionally conservative district.

And while Republicans voting in the primary seemed to have forgiven Sanford, Colbert Busch supporters argue the Democrat can make inroads with voters still uneasy about the Republican's past, especially women.

Bostic attempted to make Sanford's transgressions an issue during the runoff campaign, calling his rival "a compromised candidate" during their only debate.

"Democrats are excited at the possibility of taking this seat back," he said.

Sanford kicked off his campaign by acknowledging his past mistakes and apologizing for them. “If we live long enough, we’re going to fail at something and I absolutely failed in my personal life and in my marriage, but one place I didn’t ever fail was with the taxpayers,” he said on the TODAY show in February.

But the former governor quickly tried to switch the focus of his message to his record as a fiscal conservative, a song that plays well in the district vacated by Scott, a darling among the tea party.

Yet, already showing an impressive fund-raising prowess and with help from her famous brother, Colbert Busch may be able to mount a tougher challenge than most Democrats have been able to in South Carolina's low country. Her campaign released a poll last week showing her leading Sanford, and she has had some success courting Republican donors in the red district.

The general election will be held May 7.

Moments after the Associated Press declared Sanford the winner, Colbert Busch released a statement congratulating her opponent, saying she looked forward to a "vigorous campaign."

Also included was a statement from the campaign's spokesperson James Smith, who said Sanford "simply has the wrong values for our community."