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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.

“They come from fairly limited geographical and political bases,” said one South Carolina political strategist. “They are not known outside of their district. They are really a blank slate to the voters in the congressional district.”

State Sen. Larry Grooms, who is aligned with the tea party, confirmed he is considering a run. “There’s a number of good folks who are looking at the seat, and I’ve got my eyes on the seat also. There’s been an outpouring of support urging me to run,” he said.

Businessman Carroll Campbell III, son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell Jr., is another candidate who came up short in that campaign, placing third in the GOP primary. In 2011, he considered a run in the state’s new 7th District, and many expect him to give the 1st District another try.

Other Republicans on the grid: state Sen. Chip Campsen and state Reps. Chip Limehouse, Peter McCoy and Jim Merrill.

The 1st District runs along the southern coastline of the state, is anchored by Charleston and includes the city of Beaufort.

Per South Carolina law, the primary will occur on the 11th Tuesday after Scott’s resignation drops. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a primary runoff will be held on the 13th Tuesday after the resignation.

The general special election must occur on the 18th Tuesday after the resignation, likely around early May.

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