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In 2004, Republican Jim DeMint came in second in his Senate primary, only to win the runoff and take the office.
But how well Sanford does on Tuesday may be a determinant of his strength on April 2.
“Look at how well Sanford does in round one,” said Richard Quinn, Sr., a longtime South Carolina GOP strategist who is not involved in the race. “If he gets up over 40 percent in that round, he may have a pretty good shot at winning at round two.”
Sanford supporters think the 40 percent bar is high and expect him to land with somewhere over 30 percent of the vote.
His Achilles’ heel remains his disappearance from the state for days in 2009, when he was governor. He subsequently admitted to having an extramarital affair with a woman from Argentina. He had told his staff he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
Few underestimate Sanford’s strong political skills and the electorate’s familiarity with him. But there’s a certain incredulity that permeates longtime operatives’ comments about him winning elected office again.
“He’s talking about a God of second chances,” Quinn said. But if Sanford comes back to Congress, the strategist said with a laugh, “This’ll be more like a resurrection!”
The winner of the GOP runoff will almost certainly face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, in the general election. She’s likely to beat frequent candidate Ben Frasier outright on Tuesday.
But she faces an uphill general election climb as a Democrat in a district that is most certainly not. It voted 62 percent for then-Rep. Tim Scott, a Republican, in 2012.
Scott was appointed to the Senate to replace DeMint, leaving his House seat open.