Congressional races often capture the national spotlight because of their clash of ideals, values and party politics.

But in the 1st District, there’s another element attracting just as much attention: celebrity star power.

And if the early interest is any gauge, the media glare will only get brighter.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Gibbs Knotts, chairman of the College of Charleston’s Political Science Department.

The candidates have unique story lines that attract the public’s curiosity.

Republican Mark Sanford, a former governor and congressman, is seeking redemption after his very public downfall in 2009 following an extramarital affair.

Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch is juggling her emergence on the political stage with help from her famous brother, comedian Stephen Colbert.

Also contributing to the interest is the fact that there isn’t much in the way of politics to attract the nation’s attention as the candidates battle their way toward the May 7 special election.

“Usually you have 435 (House races) going on,” Knotts said.

While The New York Times, CNN and other national media are paying close attention, the candidates’ job remains the same — connect with as many voters as possible.

And that’s what brought Colbert Busch to a Johns Island assisted-living center Thursday, where she mingled with about a dozen residents and painted a bright picture about creating more jobs.

Her core message contrasts with Sanford’s in two ways; while she talks primarily about creating jobs, Sanford talks about reducing spending.

His stump speech begins with sobering remarks about how this nation stands at a fiscal “tipping point,” one that will have catastrophic implications for personal savings and the American quality of life if not addressed.

Colbert Busch is far more upbeat about the economic future.

“We’re going to be joyful about the things and the opportunities and the possibilities that our district has,” she said. “Things are positive. We have great assets, and we’re going to take those assets and build upon them.”

Meanwhile, Colbert Busch’s Democratic primary opponent, Ben Frasier, has endorsed Sanford, the first time he has made an endorsement in more than a dozen unsuccessful attempts for office.

“He will make a wonderful congressman, and I’m betting on it that he’ll be the winner,” Frasier said of Sanford.

Frasier’s conservative message has caused many to wonder why he has run as a Democrat, but he said he is not a GOP plant.

Asked about Frasier’s decision, Colbert Busch said, “I think the 96-4 percent vote (her March 19 victory margin over Frasier) probably speaks for itself.”

Earlier, the National Republican Congressional Committee criticized Colbert Busch for having state taxpayers foot the bill for her campaign.

The statement reflected that Clemson University paid Colbert Busch between Jan. 21, when her leave of absence began, and March 26, when her vacation and other leave time ran out.

“We already knew Colbert Busch supported (President Barack) Obama and (U.S. Rep. Nancy) Pelosi’s big-spending policies, but now she’s taken her disregard for the taxpayers to a new low,” NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill said.

Peter Hull, spokesman for Clemson’s Restoration Institute, said Colbert Busch was treated no differently than any other Clemson employee seeking a leave of absence. She has since paid her and Clemson’s share of her health insurance since March 26.

Colbert Busch also has caught criticism because her campaign had deleted hundreds of tweets, suggesting that she was scrubbing her social media presence for the special election.

Her spokesman James Smith said the step was taken because the campaign had a higher percentage of re-tweets than tweets directly from the account. “Some followers said it was just hard to keep up with stuff we actually put out like for events, fundraisers, et cetera,” he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.