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South Carolina Special Election Attracts Familiar Faces

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images File Photo
Sanford, the former governor, is among the possible candidates for the 1st District special election, as is his ex-wife.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is mulling a congressional comeback, with sources saying he might join the special election contest for Rep. Tim Scott’s soon-to-be-vacant House seat.

Sanford is “studying” a run for the Charleston-area, GOP-leaning 1st District, which he occupied in the 1990s, said one South Carolina source. The seat will soon be vacant because Republican Gov. Nikki R. Haley on Monday selected freshman Republican Scott to succeed Sen. Jim DeMint, who is resigning in January, just two years into his second term.

Sanford has about $124,000 in his old federal campaign account.

A number of potential candidates could line up alongside Sanford for the 1st District special election, territory which was drawn to elect a Republican and is almost certain to do so again. Scott won re-election in November by 28 points, and the winner of the GOP primary should cruise to victory in the special election. State law requires that a special election occur no more than 11 weeks after a House seat becomes vacant.

“This is a sprint, not a marathon,” a Republican operative in South Carolina said.

Emerging as a possible candidate is former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford — Mark Sanford’s ex-wife — who lives in the 1st District. One Palmetto State GOP strategist said Haley would likely back Jenny Sanford, who was on the governor’s short list of possible Senate appointees, if she decides to run.

“Nikki’s endorsement won’t be far behind,” the strategist said.

Jenny Sanford said in an email to CQ Roll Call Monday that she is considering the race. “My home is in Scott’s district, and I know the district very well. I expect many local politicians to enter the race to replace Scott,” she wrote. “I have already had calls from people offering to help should I choose to run, and I will speak with my family about that possibility over the holidays.”

Mark Sanford’s former chief of staff, state Sen. Tom Davis, is also a contender. Both Davis and Jenny Sanford are considered less than likely to run for now. But even if neither runs, an endorsement from either could be highly influential.

The other noteworthy name is Republican state Sen.-elect Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. Scott defeated Thurmond by a 2-1 ratio in a 2010 primary runoff in an open-seat race for the 1st District.

But other potential candidates could struggle with name identification. One source stressed that there will be no clear frontrunner because of that and the primary’s compact timeline.

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