It looks as if Charleston Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford is heading into election season without the threat of serious opposition.

South Carolina Democrats say they have yet to secure a legitimate candidate, meaning Sanford, R-S.C., faces a potential free ride in defending his seat this year.

The lack of a Democrat opponent doesn't surprise College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.

"To me, he was obviously most vulnerable in his comeback," said Knotts, pointing to the special election last year in which Sanford won what was then an open seat for the coastal 1st District.

Knotts said nothing much has been done since then to shift the political scales in the district, which already leans to the right, in an election year where very few congressional incumbents are at risk.

S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said Monday he's still chatting with potential candidates but that as of now, no one is confirming they intend to step in versus Sanford.

"I've been talking to a few people but nobody has made a determination," he said.

He declined to list some of names in the mix, though one of the Democrats who'd previously sought the seat, businesswoman Linda Ketner, said Monday she will not run.

"People go back and forth," Harrison said of those he's talking with, adding that one day the odds might be "50-50," and "the next day it's 75 percent 'yes.' "

Sanford's unopposed status came as filing for all of South Carolina's November 2014 political seats began Monday with little surprises in other races.

"Back home, we've put a premium on listening and focusing on the issues people at home are most concerned about," Sanford said after filing his election paperwork.

"We've worked on reforms to flood insurance, supported funding for the Port of Charleston, and spoken out on issues that affect our quality of life in the Lowcountry, like the I-26 tree cutting or the Wando River Bridge replacement. I want to try to be a strong voice for residents of the 1st District."

The former S.C. governor won his former 1st District seat last spring against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. It was left vacant when Tim Scott went to the U.S. Senate. The results of their special election gave Sanford a 54 percent to 42 percent edge, or a separation of about 17,500 votes across Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.

Knotts said the Colbert Busch challenge may have been the Democrats' best chance at trying to sway the seat in the aftermath of Sanford's 2009 "Appalachian Trail" visit to his then-mistress, now-fiancée in Argentina.

Harrison said there is still time for a Democrat to get in the race and be credible. Sanford has about $325,000 in campaign cash available, according to disclosures filed at the end of the year.

Democrats in Columbia, meanwhile, on Monday also welcomed a new state party executive director, Conor Hurley. His focus will include attracting younger voters and "making sure the trains run on time" at party headquarters, Harrison said.

Candidate filing will close March 30. The party primaries are June 10.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551