Less than a day after former Gov. Mark Sanford and former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic emerged from the pack in a 16-way GOP 1st Congressional District primary, the punches began to fly.

Asked what separates him from Sanford, Bostic cited Sanford’s 2009 fall from grace as governor, when his staff said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail but he was visiting his mistress, now his fiancee, in Argentina. The incident led to scrutiny of Sanford’s travel as governor and a record $74,000 state ethics fine.

Bostic said Sanford stole tax money, abandoned his post, lied to the people of South Carolina and broke ethics laws.

“I think it’s entirely appropriate that we forgive Governor Sanford for those failures,” he said. “But I also think it’s entirely appropriate that we want more from people in office than to lie to us and steal from us and violate ethics regulations.”

Bostic’s comments come after he had vowed in ads and emails to run a positive campaign.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said Bostic seems to have had a dramatic flip-flop in less than 24 hours.

“He ran this race selling voters on the idea of a positive, issues-oriented campaign, only to go back on his word just a day after the polls close,” Sawyer said. “That’s exactly what we don’t need in Washington, yet another person who says one thing and does another.”

The sparring came amid recognition that not many issues separate the two Republicans who qualified Tuesday for the April 2 runoff.

Sanford talks about his lengthy record as a fiscal conservative. Bostic’s campaign website is stopspending.com.

Sanford talks about his role creating the state conservation bank to preserve farms, forests and rural lands. Bostic touts his lead role in creating Charleston County’s conservation bank.

Both also have stressed focusing on jobs and the economy, limiting government’s reach, protecting unborn children and supporting gun rights.

“They are very similar on their positions on just about every issue out there,” said Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett. “I guess, unfortunately, they’re going to go after each other.”

Asked if he were backing off his pledge to run a positive race, Bostic said, “I’m not sending out mailings and TV commercials that bash Governor Sanford, but I also want to be truthful and accurate when someone asks, ‘Curtis, what makes you distinct?’ ”

Sanford took a different approach when asked what separates him most from Bostic. “I don’t feel I’m running against Curtis. I’m running for ideas I believe in, ideas I’ve long believed in,” he said. “I think what does stand out about my track record is not only my unusual conviction for saving money in Washington, D.C., or in any political system, but this later notion of matching it with actions.”

Sanford received 37 percent of the GOP vote Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Bostic garnered 13 percent, and there will be an automatic recount Friday because state Sen. Larry Grooms came in a close third.

The recount is not expected to change the result, and Grooms issued a statement Wednesday wishing Sanford and Bostic “all the best.”

While some pundits have said Sanford is the prohibitive favorite, others, including Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, are more cautious.

“The conventional wisdom is ruling Bostic out much too quickly,” Sabato said. “This election isn’t about Bostic. It’s about Sanford. Sanford has 100 percent name identification and got 37 percent of the vote.”

Sabato said many voters feel so negatively about Sanford that they want to give him his comeuppance at the polls. “The other name on the ballot — apparently, Bostic — has most of his vote automatically created for him. That’s a big plus for an underfunded candidate,” he said.

Bostic could use help from other GOP candidates who did not make the runoff, but the first endorsement went to Sanford and came from Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly, who got 1 percent of Tuesday’s vote.

Meanwhile, other Republicans were setting their sights on Democratic victor and Charleston businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who will face the Sanford-Bostic winner in the special election May 7.

State GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said Colbert Busch doesn’t understand Lowcountry values, and cited the AFL-CIO’s endorsement of her as proof.

“Elizabeth Colbert Busch could get elected on the West Coast but not on the coast of South Carolina,” Connelly said.

Colbert Busch’s spokesman, James Smith, said in an email that the candidate would not be available for comment Wednesday.

State Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian said unlike her possible GOP opponents, “she is in this race for the right reasons — to fight for the middle-class families, small businesses and members of the community who work hard and play by the rules but have been forgotten by career politicians.”

Tuesday’s primary gave her a convincing win over Ben Frasier with 96 percent of the Democratic vote, but Colbert Busch has some work ahead of her. She netted less than 16,000 votes in the Democratic primary while Sanford pulled in nearly 20,000 votes in the GOP primary. Also, more than three times as many Republicans as Democrats turned out for the election.

“I don’t think anything that happened yesterday bolsters or douses her hopes,” Citadel political science professor Scott Buchanan said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.