South Carolina’s crowded 1st District race draws interest from afar

Among the 17 candidates seeking the open 1st congressional district seat are a former governor who gained national notoriety by secretly leaving the state to visit his mistress in Argentina as well as two relatives of national media figures.

Who’s in

Republicans

Sullivan’s Island businessman Keith Blandford

Former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic

State Sen. Larry Grooms

Charleston businessman Jonathan Hoffman

Tim Larkin

State Rep. Chip Limehouse

Goose Creek businessman Jeff King

Former state Sen. John Kuhn

State Rep. Peter McCoy

Former Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly

Former Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash

State Rep. Andy Patrick

Former Gov. Mark Sanford

Charleston teacher Teddy Turner

Democrats

Educator Bobbie Rose

Clemson Restoration Institute development director Elizabeth Colbert-Busch

Charleston businessman Martin Skelly

Teddy Turner, son of CNN founder, former Atlanta Braves owner and philanthropist Ted Turner, and Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, sister of prominent political comedian Stephen Colbert, help make this year’s special election not only the most crowded ever, but also the most intriguing.

No wonder The Washington Post’s blog called South Carolina “the most interesting state in politics,” and the field seeking Sen. Tim Scott’s former House seat “nothing short of fascinating.”

And the field could swell even more before filing ends at noon Monday.

The race already has drawn attention well beyond the boundaries of the district, which includes Berkeley, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton and Dorchester counties.

An Associated Press profile on Turner has run in newspapers in other states, noting how his conservative politics differ from his father, who previously was married to actress and anti-war activist Jane Fonda.

“My dad asked, ‘What’s the minimum amount I can give because you’re a Republican?’” Teddy Turner, 49, said. “My dad has been asking for years, ‘How the heck did you become so conservative?’”

It’s unclear what help, if any, Colbert-Busch might receive from her younger brother, but it could be substantial — at least in terms of raising cash.

An analysis done by a University of California-San Diego political science professor found that the so-called “Colbert bump” — a spike in campaign contributions after a politician appears on “The Colbert Report” comedy show — is real.

And they’re likely to get more press attention, too, as evidenced by Turner’s early profile.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Turner and Colbert-Busch have a leg up in terms of money and access to free media coverage.

“The media are like moths to the flame for anyone with a whiff of celebrity,” he said.

But it’s not clear whether that will translate into votes, College of Charleston political scientist Jordan Ragusa said.

“I’m not convinced people will take their political cues from Colbert,” he said. “Colbert is sort of all over the map. Sometimes he really pushes something, and sometimes he doesn’t.”

Many consider former Gov. Mark Sanford the GOP frontrunner, and his race will be a gauge as to how much Republicans have forgiven him for his decision to leave the state for Argentina to meet his mistress — while his staff claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford completed his term but was hit with a record ethics fine.

Sabato said he expects Sanford will be among the top two vote-getters in the March 19 primary. “But he has loads of baggage,” he added. “His problem won’t be in getting into the runoff, it will be winning the runoff (on April 2). It all depends on the match-up in the runoff.”

While Lowcountry Democrats are pleased to see their first intriguing congressional primary in years, their party’s victor still will be seen as a long shot when the general election is held on May 7.

That’s largely because of the way the district was drawn.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney beat Democrat Barack Obama by about a 58-40 margin in the 1st District — better than Romney’s 55-44 margin statewide.

So experts say it’s very unlikely the seat will go Democratic for the first time since the 1978 election.

“If the eventual GOP nominee has been hobbled by his own problems, and the other candidates fail to back him against the Democrat — perhaps that combination would make the Democrat competitive,” Sabato said, “but I doubt it.”

Still, this spring’s race is shaping up as a pretty unusual one, Ragusa said. “Special elections tend to be kind of quirky by their nature, but true to South Carolina form, this really takes it to the next level,” he added.

And while this state’s politics might not be any more intriguing than what’s going on in Virginia or Louisiana, it does stand out.

“Let’s just say South Carolina has fascinating, vigorous, and often highly negative politics,” Sabato said, “and leave it at that.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.

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