WASHINGTON -- Disgraced ex-governor Mark Sanford woke up Wednesday in a better position to rewrite the narrative of his once-promising political career, as he advanced to a GOP runoff for a congressional seat in South Carolina.
The special election to replace Republican Tim Scott in the U.S. House up until now has been notable for its unusual cast of characters. On the Democratic side, there is businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch -- a political novice whose younger brother is Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert.
The Republican side featured 16 candidates, including a philandering politician trying to make a comeback (Sanford), the son of a media mogul making his first bid for office (Teddy Turner), and assorted current or former officeholders.
South Carolina voters won't decide who replaces Scott, now an appointed member of the U.S. Senate, until May 7. Here are five takeaways from the primaries held Tuesday in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.
There will be no recount to determine Sanford's runoff opponent: Less than 500 votes separated former Charleston County Council member Curtis Bostic and state Sen. Larry Grooms for the No. 2 spot in the GOP runoff, according to unofficial returns from Tuesday's election. That would have been enough to trigger an automatic runoff under state law.
Grooms conceded overnight in a post on Facebook, and wished Sanford and Bostic all the best in Round 2. "I regret that we fell a few votes shy of our plan to be in a runoff election," Grooms wrote. "I had hoped for a better ending to this wild ride but God had different plans in mind."
Sanford is the front-runner but not out of the woods: The former governor was on the ballot for the first time since admitting an extramarital affair in 2009, so being the clear top vote-getter puts him in good position going into the April 2 runoff. More than 60% of the GOP votes in the primary, however, went to Sanford's 15 other opponents. Sanford and Bostic will debate on March 28.
Colbert Busch could make the race competitive: The businesswoman has received a lot of attention because of her family ties. The Democratic Congressional Committee is already talking up Colbert Busch's candidacy and highlighting her business background, which includes working for Clemson University's wind turbine facility on the site of an old naval shipyard. Colbert Busch's support from the AFL-CIO, however, is being attacked by Republicans in a right-to-work state.
The vote totals highlight GOP dominance: More than 53,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary vs. about 16,500 on the Democratic side. It's another sign that the district is overwhelmingly Republican, and why Colbert Busch has a battle on her hands against the GOP nominee.
Talk of Sanford's affair may not be over: The ex-governor was upfront in the primary about believing in a "God of second chances" and the mistakes he's made. Sanford said Tuesday being the top vote-getter on the GOP side was "incredibly humbling." A one-on-one race - in the primary and the general election - could give Sanford's opponents another opportunity to remind voters about his infidelity.
"I would predict to you if it's Mark Sanford" as the GOP nominee, "the Democratic committee will pour money into the race and make him the narrative," said Katon Dawson, a former state Republican Party chairman. "He built the narrative on forgiveness and redemption and then had to pivot to his conservative record as a congressman and governor."