CHARLESTON, S.C. – Mark Sanford believes in "a God of second chances."
He's hoping to ride that wave into a second chance in politics. Three years ago he went from being rumored as a potential Republican presidential contender to disgraced South Carolina governor, following a highly-publicized affair with an Argentinean woman.
He's now in a run-off election for the Republican nomination for congressional seat in the Palmetto State. If he wins it, he'll face a Democratic opponent that's also familiar with the limelight.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, always dreamed of a career in politics — and now she has a chance to realize that dream.
As Sanford advanced Tuesday night to an April 2 GOP runoff for an open congressional seat in a southern coastal district, Colbert Busch easily won the Democratic primary to earn a spot on the May 7 general election ballot.
The race has drawn national attention because of Sanford's well-known fall from grace and Colbert Busch's relationship to Stephen Colbert, who parodies a conservative political commentator as host of TV's "The Colbert Report."
Colbert Busch swamped perennial candidate Ben Frasier on Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination for the seat vacated by Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate to replace fellow Republican Jim DeMint, now head of The Heritage Foundation.
She says she's long dreamed of a career in politics. She remembers watching the 1968 funeral of slain U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy on television with her younger brother Stephen sitting in her lap. That's when she promised herself that one day she would run for office.
Colbert Busch now faces the winner of the GOP primary runoff in the 1st Congressional District.
"I understand your frustrations and your aspirations. I will never stop listening to you and I am ready to be your voice in Washington," Colbert Bush told her supporters Tuesday night.
"My pledge is to you. You are my only cause. I will fight to improve your lives and the lives of your children," she added.
Sanford, trying to mount a political comeback, easily outdistanced the other 15 Republicans in the field Tuesday. But with only 37 percent of the vote, he finds himself in a runoff.
Former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic appeared to be in second place following the voting, but the margin is so narrow — less than 1 percent over state Sen. Larry Grooms — that it will trigger an automatic recount this week. Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, finished fourth.
Tuesday was Sanford's first run for office since a 2009 scandal in which he acknowledged an affair. After disappearing and telling his staff he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail, he returned to the state to reveal that he was in Argentina with his mistress. Sanford and his wife Jenny divorced, and he is now engaged to the Argentine woman.
"Are you ready to change things in Washington?" Sanford, flanked by his four sons, asked a boisterous crowd at a restaurant in Charleston's historic district. "I'm incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support we have seen tonight."
Earlier Tuesday, Sanford said it was "a treat and a blessing" to be back on the ballot. He represented the district in Congress for three terms before he was elected governor, serving two terms.
"We all hope for a second chance. I believe in a God of second chances," Sanford said after voting Tuesday.
Whether against Sanford, Grooms or Bostic, Colbert Busch would appear to have an uphill battle in the May 7 special election in the strongly Republican district.
Last fall, Mitt Romney won the conservative district by 18 percentage points, although he beat President Barack Obama by 10 percentage points statewide.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.