Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

What Sanford’s First-Place Finish Means

In House, Primary on March 20, 2013 at 10:57 am
Mark Sanford (R)

Mark Sanford (R)

Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R) easily claimed the top position in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District’s special primary last night, capturing 37 percent of the vote within a huge field of sixteen Republican candidates. He will advance to the April 2 run-off election against former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic, who nipped state Sen. Larry Grooms for second place.

The former governor and three-term congressman broke 40 percent in his home of Charleston County, the district’s most populous region. But, in terms of the fast approaching run-off election, even his 41 percent finish in Charleston is light years away from scoring a 50 percent plus one majority vote. District-wide, 63 percent of the Republicans who went to the polls chose a candidate other than Sanford, even though the former governor has universal name identification. Still, considering the hardened negative image after his extra-marital affair with an Argentine mistress became international news, Sanford’s showing last night does indicate that he retains a base of residual support.

Bostic, the man the ex-governor will face in the run-off election, claimed 13 percent of the vote, edging state Sen. Grooms’ 12 percent. Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, finished fourth with 8 percent. It was a disappointing night for the sitting Republican state legislators. Aside from Grooms, none of the other three came close to reaching the top tier as state Reps. Andy Patrick (7 percent), Chip Limehouse (6 percent), and Peter McCoy (2 percent) all performed badly. Limehouse had a particularly tough finish considering he spent more than any other candidate – well over $600,000, more than 80 percent of which was self-contributed.

Though heavily outspent, Bostic commanded a strong grassroots campaign and his background as a public official, community activist, major non-profit organizer, and attorney will compare favorably to Sanford. He will now be in a position to take advantage of the opportunity to coalesce the vast majority of the anti-Sanford votes.

For the Democrats, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbert, captured almost all of her party’s votes. She scored a 96-4 percent win versus former congressional nominee Ben Frasier, who spent less than $10,000 on the primary race.

Turnout topped the 70,000 voter mark, or just about 16 percent of the registered voters. More than 53,000 people voted in the Republican primary. Just over 16,000 participated on the Democratic side, which illustrates the level of difficulty Colbert Busch will have in scoring an upset win in the May 7 special general election. Sanford somehow tallying a surprising run-off win, however, would put her in serious competition for the seat in the special general.

It is clear that last night’s primary election was a victory in Mark Sanford’s quest for a political comeback. But, will it be short lived? In looking ahead to the next challenge, a head-to-head contest against a highly credible opponent, this election performance might mark the last such win he experiences.

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