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Mark Sanford inches toward redemption, but tea party dark horse looms

Former Gov. Mark Sanford topped the Republican primary for an open seat congressional seat in South Carolina. But his opposition in a Republican runoff – and potentially in the general election – is intriguing.

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The stakes in Tuesday's primary were arguably highest for Sanford, who has gone through a divorce since he left office in 2010 after two terms as governor. He previously represented the first district in Congress for three terms in the 1990s, always campaigning as a small government fiscal conservative. His comeback campaign has centered on expressions of at times tearful humility and the Christian value of redemption after sin.

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"We all hope for a second chance. I believe in a God of second chances," Sanford said after the race on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. "On a professional level, we have had a couple of months to talk about the issues. In that regard it has been a treat and a blessing."

While name recognition drove Sanford's comfortable primary margin – Bostic got 13 percent of the vote, narrowly securing second place – l'affaire Appalachian may be difficult to overcome, given that many female voters are likely to stay home or even vote for the female alternative on the other end of the ballot, Colbert-Busch. Even many female Republicans in South Carolina say they were not moved by Sanford's insistence that he had found his real soul mate in his Argentinian girlfriend, to whom he is now engaged.

Politicians seen as "lady killers" tend to struggle in South Carolina, says David Woodard a political scientist at Clemson University in South Carolina. Former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, for example, was widely seen as the favorite to win the seat for the Seventh Congressional District last year.

But Mr. Bauer, who is younger, single, and generally considered handsome, campaigned with a gaggle of young women in tow to press stickers onto the lapels of potential voters. Bauer prevailed in last year's primary, but then lost in the runoff.

Bauer "had money and connections and visibility, but in the end those things did not give him the license to represent the Seventh District," says Professor Woodard. "I can't think of any politician in South Carolina who's been able to come back from defeat, let alone scandal, and win, but you never see anyone who says that in a poll."

Bostic represents a clear alternative to Sanford. A Charleston attorney, Bostic spent almost no money on TV ads, instead crisscrossing the district and engaging church communities and tea party groups.

"God is good," was the first thing he said to supporters after winning a spot in the runoff.

"All the time," the crowd responded in unison.

"They thought this seat could be bought," Bostic said, according to the Goose Creek, S.C., Patch, a news website. "We can do things people don't expect."

South Carolina political consultants say Bostic, too, has weaknesses that can be exploited in the heat of a brief general election campaign, including the fact that he doesn't live in the district, and he once defended a Christian adoption agency accused of human trafficking.

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