South Carolina Race Pits Sanford Against Colbert Busch

The deep red district will likely remain so, despite distractions, pundits say.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford leaves the voting booth after voting at his precinct in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, April 2, 2013.
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Special election politics are often unpredictable, but in the case of South Carolina's 1st District race it might just be that what you see is what you get.

The match-up pits former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, most famous for pretending he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he really was wining and dining his Argentinian mistress, against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.

[READ: Opinion | The Public Flogging Before a Political Comeback]

The sensational pair already has politicos atwitter that a Democrat could upset a Republican in a district where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama by 17 points.

"There's going to be a bunch of national press attention, but I don't see that in terms of voters it's going to make much difference," says David Woodard, a South Carolina political consultant and visiting professor at Southern Methodist University. "It just kind of enhances this image South Carolina has of being the land of fruits and nuts."

Woodard says Sanford won his primary contests not because of great love for the candidate or the redemption story, but because he out-muscled his opponents.

[READ: Mark Sanford's Apology: God Will Make Me Better]

"It was money... and he was on television," he says. "Sanford always looks good on TV – now, he looked better when he had that pretty wife and those kids. But to Sanford's credit, he has taken the battle to them, saying 'you've got to believe in forgiveness' and he's been very outspoken about what he did."

Sanford topped a 16-candidate field with 37 percent of the vote and defeated Curtis Bostic in a run-off election Tuesday by a margin of 58 percent to 41 percent.

Polling for the general election, slated for May 7, shows Colbert Busch, a director of business development at Clemson University's Restoration Institute, either tied or up a couple of points over Sanford.

[READ: Stephen Colbert Behind Many of the Fundraisers for His Sister's House Race]

The scandal-ridden pol left the governor's mansion in a state of disgrace, eventually getting a divorce from his wife, and is now engaged to his mistress, giving Democrats hope they can take control of the heavily Republican seat.

But Woodard says no dice.

"A Democrat has a better chance of becoming an astronaut than winning down there in that 1st Congressional District," he says. "There's only one Democrat in the congressional delegation in South Carolina and that's a majority black seat. All the rest of them are held by Republicans; I can't imagine that would change."

Political analyst Stu Rothenberg recently picked apart the polling that is fueling Democratic optimism and named Sanford the favorite.

"This special election is worth watching and I expect national Republicans to have to get involved to hold the seat," he wrote in Roll Call Tuesday. "But Colbert Busch remains an underdog in a Republican-leaning district."

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Update (04/03/13): An earlier version of this story included a quote from David Woodard that inaccurately said the Club for Growth officially backed Mark Sanford in his South Carolina Republican primary congressional race. They did not.