(CNN) - With less than a month to go until a high profile special election to fill a vacant congressional seat in South Carolina, things are heating up.
Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of satirist and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, Tuesday released her first ad of the general election campaign. Her Republican opponent, former Gov. Mark Sanford, whose political career was sidetracked back in 2009 thanks to a well-publicized affair, was quick to respond and criticize Colbert Busch, and he also accepted invitations to four debates between now and the May 7 contest.
"I'm Elizabeth Colbert Busch, and as a single mom raising three young children, I had to be independent and do what's right for them. Now, I'm going to take that lesson to Congress," says Colbert Bush in the commercial, speaking directly into the camera. "I won't take any special interest pledges or follow any party line. To create jobs in South Carolina, we need a well-educated and skilled workforce and we need to get rid of government waste. The deficit is killing jobs."
The Sanford campaign was quick to respond to the Colbert Bush spot, with spokesman Joel Sawyer saying that that it's "fairly ironic that she's now against the deficit, after advocating for the trillion dollar, budget-busting, failed stimulus which raised deficits, and for Obamacare, which many argue is one of the biggest tax increases in American history."
The release of the new ad came as the Boeing company announced Tuesday that it's expanding in South Carolina, saying it will invest $1 billion and create 2,000 jobs over the next eight years in the Palmetto State. The International Association of Machinists had filed a complaint against Boeing with the National Labor Relations Board, trying to stop Boeing from building airliners in South Carolina. The union said the decision to put the new plant in South Carolina was a move by Boeing to retaliate against a strike by company workers in Washington state. The NLRB dropped its suit against Boeing after the company and the union reached an agreement that allowed Boeing to open the South Carolina plant while it expanded operations and raised wages in Washington.
Colbert Bush praised Boeing's move, saying in a statement Tuesday that "this is a wonderful day for the hardworking people of South Carolina, and it just goes to show the success we can have when the public and private sectors work together. As a businesswoman who supports and is committed to workforce development, this is exactly the kind of project we need."
But the Sanford campaign was quick to highlight that Colbert Bush accepted contributions from unions that opposed Boeing's plant in North Charleston.
"Elizabeth Colbert Busch must have cut this ad before she took tens of thousands of dollars in union special interest money, including from the same folks who tried to ship 1,000 Boeing jobs out of South Carolina and back to the northwest," said Sawyer.
And a statement from the candidate about an hour later went a step further.
"To remove any cloud about the influence of anti-Boeing special interests in the race, I call on my opponent to return all the contributions she has received from these unions, and not accept any more," said Sanford, in a statement.
CNN has reached out to the Colbert Busch campaign for reaction, but has yet to receive a response.
But the South Carolina Democratic Party says Sanford accepted union contributions in his 1998 and 2000 House re-election campaigns.
"Just when you thought Mark Sanford's strained relationship with the truth couldn't get any worse, we learn that he's criticizing Elizabeth Colbert Busch for something he's done," said SCDP Chairman Dick Harpootlian in a statement. "Mark owes Elizabeth an apology for this ugly attack."
The Sanford campaign reacted a few hours later, saying the contributions cited by the South Carolina Democratic Party were actually made to a "Sanford Bishop for Congress,"
"This is yet another example of Democrats playing fast and loose with the facts in an effort to distract from their candidate being beholden to the union that tried to shutter Boeing, and ship 1,000 jobs from Charleston off to Washington state," said Sawyer. "Mr. Harpootlian owes voters, and for that matter Governor Sanford, an apology for disseminating this false and misleading information."
The South Carolina Democrats admitted to the mistake, saying they had used information on OpenSecrets.org.
"We relied on an independent organization used by many journalism organizations and it’s disappointing and unfortunate that the source appears to be in error. We apologize for any confusion that this error has caused," a party spokeswoman wrote.
Meanwhile, Sanford Tuesday announced that he has accepted invitations to four debates and forums and urged his Democratic opponent to accept as well. The four events include a proposed debate by CNN.
Sanford's affair with a woman from Argentina came to light in 2009, when as governor of South Carolina he disappeared from public view for several days and re-emerged, claiming he'd been hiking the Appalachian Trail. He later admitted that he was actually in Argentina, seeing his lover. The episode sank any hopes Sanford had of making a bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Sanford and then-wife Jenny were divorced in 2010 and he finished his second term as governor in January 2011, exiting to what many thought would be political obscurity. Sanford is now engaged to the woman, Maria Belen Chapur.
Sanford came out on top of a 16-candidate primary and won the following run-off election for the GOP nomination to the district that he represented in Congress for three terms before being elected governor in 2002.
Sanford is touting his fiscal conservative credentials as he campaigns, but he's also asking the public for a second chance, telling CNN that he was seeking "redemption" by running for office again.
Besides being Stephen Colbert's sister, Colbert Busch is an official with Clemson University's wind turbine drive testing facility. Her famous brother has already campaigned on her behalf and will attend two upcoming fundraisers for her.
Colbert Busch is expected to have an uphill climb in the general election because the district is heavily Republican. The 1st District has been in GOP hands for more than three decades.
Rep. Tim Scott won re-election to the seat by 27 percentage points in last November's election. But when Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint stepped down from his seat late last year to take over as the head of the conservative Heritage Foundation, GOP Gov. Nikki Haley named Scott to fill the seat, triggering the special election to fill the seat.