South Carolina Special Election Will Likely Be Mark Sanford vs. Teddy Turner

The South Carolina special election ballot is full of candidates that just cannot win. Forget about a Democrat taking the District 1 house seat on May 7; Stephen Colbert’s sister is trying to, but that area first went red in 1981, and has not swayed since. Even a celebrity connection won’t push the district left.

The real losers, though, will be the sixteen Republicans vying for the 1st Congressional District seat. That primary is scheduled for March. Many of the candidates have political pasts, but some are just plain old folk.

Ric Bryant is an engineer. Jeff King is an army contractor. Shawn Pinkston is an attorney. It is hard to believe any newbies will gain traction in such a contentious environment. Their biographies and aspirations are so similar, they’re forgettable. To sum them up: they’re not politically savvy, but want Washington out of our pockets and Congress to speak for the people again.

The man who might actually win the election is Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina. After admitting to an extramarital affair in 2009, most believed his political career was over - but this may be his comeback. He already has over 60% approval in district 1.

Now, it is unlikely that Sanford will get more than 50% of the vote and win the primary outright. The fifteen other candidates will split the ticket. But it is likely that he will be one of the top two, and will head off to a runoff election in April. 

Although Sanford has a good lead, his runoff mate will probably be Teddy Turner, a high school economics teacher. You may have never heard of him. But you have heard of CNN and TBS, two networks created by Teddy’s media mogul father, Ted Turner. The younger Turner generated a lot of early interest and funding, which allowed him to run a few campaign commercials before his opponents could.

A runoff between the two might be dangerous for Sanford if it brings more attention to his problematic past. For the people who believe Congress needs new blood, Teddy is their man. But Sanford's previous scandal needn't destroy him. Before becoming governor, Sanford was District 1’s U.S. House representative for six years. He could argue this election that his hiatus has given him a fresh political eye and that his previous experience just can’t be beat.

One must wonder what former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is thinking. He’s the reason this is happening. Last December DeMint abruptly resigned from Congress to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. District 1’s House Representative, Tim Scott, replaced him, thus creating a vacancy.

In a Washington Post op-ed, DeMint explained his resignation. After 14 years in office he felt Congress was a lame duck.

“Congress has become the place where good ideas go to die,” DeMint wrote. “In contrast, think tanks such as Heritage use objective analysis to discover why ideas work and don’t.”

Who better to admit this than a career politician himself?

Yet there must be something worthwhile in the job. DeMint lasted more than a decade, which is nothing compared to South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond's 50-plus years of public service. Let’s just hope that something is more than the pay and the power.

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Uchechi Kalu

Uchechi is PolicyMic's Politics Intern and a senior@ Princeton University. Tweet her @chechkalu

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