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Why South Carolina special election is no big deal

With a quirky cast of characters, the special election in South Carolina for a seat in the US House is more idiosyncratic than most – but it's still likely to go Republican.

By Staff writer / April 2, 2013

Former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic and his wife, Jenny, greet voters at a polling place in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday. Mr. Bostic faced former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on Tuesday in the Republican primary runoff for South Carolina's vacant First Congressional District seat.

Bruce Smith/AP

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In South Carolina’s First Congressional District on Tuesday, voters will decide which Republican – former Gov. Mark Sanford or local city council leader Curtis Bostic – will survive to face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election next month.

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Could the seat shift power in Congress? No, as Republicans hold an advantage of better than 20 seats in the House.

Will the quirky race for the Palmetto State’s First Congressional District prove a harbinger of the 2014 electoral climate?

Recent history has shown special elections are not clear heralds of the full contests to come. In 2011, Democrats crowed that Kathy Hochul’s victory in a conservative, upstate New York district proved that the budget from Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin would spell political doom for the GOP House majority.

Republicans likewise swore that the win by Rep. Mark Amodei (R) of Nevada in a separate special election that year proved the GOP could withstand a barrage of attacks regarding the Ryan budget.

What turned out in 2012? Murkiness.

First, Ms. Hochul lost her seat, even as Democrats cut into the GOP House advantage. Yet Democrats made very few gains in the sort of solidly red territory where Mr. Amodei was elected.

In the South Carolina special election, the particular characters at play may make the race even more idiosyncratic than most. Ms. Colbert Busch hails from James Island, a particularly distinct suburb of Charleston, and plays up her bona fides as a pragmatic businesswoman. She also has the star power of her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, at hand.

On the other side are Mr. Sanford, the disgraced former governor who made “walking the Appalachian Trail” an epithet for less modest behavior when he disappeared to Argentina with his mistress; and Mr. Bostic, a lawyer and former US Marine who is a both a champion of the tea party’s fiscal message and a warrior for the homeschooling, evangelical Christian movement.

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