Shortly after 8 P.M. Tuesday night, the Associated Press declared former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford the winner of the Republican primary runoff for the 1st District special election.

The 56—43% victory over former Charleston County Councilman and trial lawyer Curtis Bostic sets up Sanford for a chance to regain the seat he previously held in Congress from 1995-2001 before becoming the state’s governor. Sanford faces Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who is the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, and Green Party candidate Eugene Platt in the May 7 general election.

The race to fill the seat left open by Tim Scott’s appointment to the United States Senate has already attracted national attention, mostly because of Sanford’s unlikely bid at a political comeback and an unprecedented 18-candidate Republican field. Sanford, who left office amid controversy surrounding an extramarital affair, was considered a rising star among Republicans while governor and is thought of by some as the first “tea party” governor by rejecting federal stimulus money in early 2009. Similar efforts to turn back federal money are still underway in the state.

The question now remains as to whether Democrat Colbert Busch can top Sanford in the general election. Polls released over the last week show Colbert Busch running ahead of Sanford, but within the margin of error, with both independent and campaign-hired pollsters claiming a possible path to victory for the Democrat. The seat has been held by Republicans since 1971. Talk this morning of Sanford’s predicted victory prompted one NBC News reporter to wonder if the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would get involved in the race if they saw an opening for Colbert Busch.

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