Charleston, South Carolina (CNN) – Former Gov. Mark Sanford finished first in Tuesday's crowded Republican primary for the U.S. House special election in South Carolina, CNN projects. However, Sanford fell well short of the 50% margin needed to avoid a runoff.
The former governor will compete against Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston councilman, in a runoff election in two weeks. The third place finisher, state Sen. Larry Grooms, conceded the race Wednesday.
"Are you guys ready to change things in Washington, D.C.?" Sanford said to supporters at his campaign headquarters in Charleston on Tuesday night. All four of his sons attended the party.
"What we've earned is the honor of being on the playing field here for the next two weeks," he added, asking the crowd to redouble their campaign efforts. "Indeed, we are at that tipping point."
On the Democratic side, CNN projects Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, won the nomination.
"This is absolutely incredible. What a wonderful night," she told supporters at a victory party in Charleston, South Carolina. "It's the start of a new beginning, right?"
The longtime area businesswoman was considered the favorite on the Democratic side over opponent Ben Frasier. She'll compete against the Republican nominee in the general election in May.
The winner of the special election will fill the U.S. House seat vacated by now-Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican appointed to fill the Senate spot that Jim DeMint left last month.
"I am ready to go to Washington, D.C. to be your voice, so we're going to do that," Colbert Busch said.
The Republican primary ballot featured 16 candidates, including Sanford and Teddy Turner, son of CNN founder Ted Turner.
Sanford's re-entry into politics comes after an extramarital affair derailed his marriage and political career. As governor, he infamously told the public in 2009 he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was actually traveling to Argentina to carry on the affair.
He and his then-wife, Jenny, were divorced in 2010 and Sanford finished his second term in January 2011.
Sanford is asking the public for a second chance, and in his own informal poll of the voters, he said he's finding an openness to forgive, if not forget.
In an interview Tuesday night, Sanford said his first-place finish was "incredibly humbling."
"There's this amazing reservoir of human grace out there that's a reflection of God's grace, and I've seen it first hand," he said, adding that he looks forward to a "spirited contest" during the runoff.
Sanford's colorful not so distant past was far from the only distraction in the race.
Turner had family ties, deep pockets and a sudden rise in some internal polling. All that made him a big target.
Opponents filled mailboxes with attack ads on Turner, with some tying the candidate to one of his father's ex-wives, Jane Fonda.
"You know it's absolutely amazing how dirty the game is, how expensive the game is. It just doesn't make sense," Turner said.
John Avlon, a CNN political contributor whose family has lived in South Carolina for decades, said Sanford's honesty about his imperfect personal life has made him more relatable to voters.
"There is an affection for a guy who admits he's a sinner and asks for forgiveness, especially down here," Avlon said.
Despite his transgressions, the former governor insists he is worthy of the public trust. Sanford maintains he learned some important life lessons after wondering off-trail.
"Oddly enough, I think you learn from the valleys of life rather than the peaks," Sanford said.
CNN's Ashley Killough and Keating Holland contributed to this report.
This proves why the south is still stuck 100 years in time. If they nominate sanford it will be a clear sign they truly have no clue about the real world.
Conservative values at display. Yes forgiveness.
“When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.” – Emo Philips
Democrats are a joke.
Sanford must not be able to find a JOB!!!
Why in the world would ANYBODY vote for this creep?
I already voted for change once..and it DIDN'T HAPPEN
colbert bump for the win
Must be nice to collect a government check knowing you can abandon your duties, travel to another continent to have sex with your girlfriend, lie to your constituents about your whereabouts, and then be rewarded by getting yet another government job.
Again, how is winning humbling? Losing gives you humility. Getting caught cheating on your wife gives you humility. Winning an election is an ego boost, which is the opposite of humbling. But at least he has a political background. Colbert's sister is running on her name and the constituents are willing to vote for it. They think Colbert is intelligent, so his sister must be too. How does this garbage happen. If she ends up running against Sanford in the general election, the ballot will be written proof of the dumbing down of America.
"Are you guys ready to change things in Washington D.C?" Hahahaha. Can't run a marriage but you'll change Washington D.C. Does the word delusional come to anyone's mind? This politics game becomes funnier by the year.
the american voter is so dumb. Sanford? Really?
As a taxpayer living within this district I was completely turned off by the blatant religious/bigoted pandering by most of the Republicans running. There were 13 Republicans running for this one Congressional seat and 90% were completely worthless. As a true Conservative, I found it disheartening this crop of candidates were the best the Republican party could come up with. Mrs. Colbert Busch is what many consider a moderate Democrat with real-world business experience and acumen.
In the end, this should be about elevating our state's financial, educational and business status in the nation, not about religion or gay marriage.
"There is an affection for a guy who admits he's a sinner and asks for forgiveness, especially down here,"
Sanford's act is straight out of the Republican playbook. 1. Get caught doing something sleazy and dishonest 2. Ask Jesus for forgiveness (he always forgives politicians) 3. Be humble and declare yourself "born again" 4. Run again.
What a loser Sanford is
"'Are you guys ready to change things in Washington, D.C.?' Sanford said to supporters at his campaign headquarters in Charleston on Tuesday night."
So Sanford is suggesting that his supporters vote for somebody else? Someone who's NOT a liar and doesn't cheat on his wife, for instance?
The real joke is on us if Sanford gets elected.
I think you meant 'wandering' off trail.
Sandford and Republicans represents the height of HYPOCRACY!
Are you kidding me? As Governor he goes AWOL for a taste of Argentine Tang and now he is a viable candidate for HOR?
Just when I thought living in FL was bad.
Ah the hypocrisies! I love Republicans, they put on some great entertainment.
YAY!!! You GO, girl!!! Absolutely thrilled that Elizabeth Colbert Busch has won the Democratic primary, and is well on her way to becoming an honorable, responsible, and decent member of the U.S. House of Representatives! We so desperately need that, at present!
its totally okay that Sanford wins after cheating on his wife, lying to the american public, and spending tax dollars on trips to other countries. just as long as a democrat doesnt win in South Carolina. Welcome to "southern logic."
As a republican, I can honestly say that this is the reason why so many people turn their backs to republicans. I am disgusted to see how nothing has changed in the republican party. The same old crocks keep holding seats/positions. We need a total overhaul of the republican party. We need new faces, new blood who can take this party to a new level. I wonder how in the world this jackass was even nominated? wow...speechless.....
Hiking the Appalachian Trial?
He was chasing some Argentinian tail.
Mark, we didn't forget, and we will NEVER forget how you abandoned your family and your state for some cheap roll in the hay.
Why didn’t the RepubliCONS in that crap state of South Carolina impeached that dirtbag Sanford and remove him from office? It's probably because they're doing the same kind of stuff. Democrats at least have the decency to resign, but as shown by Craig, Vitter, Sanford, Ensign, etc., the hypocritical, "family values" RepubliCONS think they are above the law. Those cretins will do and say absolutely ANYTHING to seize and remain in power. If their repulsive idea of family values consists of infidelity, adultery, child molestation, corruption, hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and debased ethics, I'm sure glad I'm not part of their gross little family.
A race? Not really. This is about virtues and not party, CNN. Yes, Stephen Colbert's sister is running. No, she is not an entertainer like her brother. She cares about the state she grew up in. She has a solid platform that takes the concerns of SC voters into account. There's a good chance she could win and benefit the state of South Carolina.