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Tonight, voters in South Carolina go to the polls in a runoff between two Republican contenders in the state's 1st Congressional District: former Gov. Mark Sanford and former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic. Sanford, of course, is almost a household name, thanks to his notorious 2009 disappearance from the country to meet a paramour in Argentina, a jaunt one staffer infamously claimed was actually a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail. But despite his peccadillos, Sanford remains decently popular with his fellow Republicans, allowing him to secure 37 percent of the vote in the primary two weeks ago, in a field of 16 candidates.
Bostic, meanwhile, came into the race largely unknown, but fervor for his candidacy among evangelic Christians allowed him to edge into the second runoff slot with just 13 percent, less than a point ahead of the third-place finisher. Bostic's been outraised almost 5-to-1 by Sanford, who in fact represented this district in Congress for three terms before ascending to the governorship a decade ago. (The seat became vacant earlier this year when then-Rep. Tim Scott was tapped by Gov. Nikki Haley to replace Jim DeMint, who resigned from the Senate in January.)
But Sanford is far from beloved. The lone public poll of the runoff, from PPP, showed him with a 53-40 edge over his opponent. Ordinarily you'd have to feel pretty good about a 13-point lead with just a week to go, but curiously enough, Sanford went on the attack in his first debate with Bostic, which is not the kind of move typically made by a frontrunner on a glide path to his party's nomination. Sanford's charges that Bostic had missed votes on the county council also backfired: Bostic was caring for his cancer-stricken wife at the time, and if there's anyone who has no standing to carp about absenteeism, well, it's America's favorite trail guide.
Polls close at 7 PM ET tonight. Whoever wins will face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, in a May 7 special election. The district is very red—it went for Mitt Romney by a wide 58-40 margin last November—but both PPP and a Colbert Busch internal poll showed the Democrat very competitive. So which Republican should you root for? Sanford is damaged goods but has name recognition and money; Bostic is a clean slate but lacks Sanford's resources. In the end, I'll go with Sanford, because it would be easier to make the race about his failings. But Bostic could very well pull an upset, so come join us at Daily Kos Elections as we follow the returns.