BEAUFORT, S.C. -- One congressional candidate is a former GOP governor seeking redemption after his career imploded in a public saga involving lies, the Appalachian Trail and an Argentine mistress. His Democratic opponent is a famous comedian's sister who's trying to benefit from her rival's damaged reputation.
In a bizarre campaign that has roiled South Carolina, Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch are in a surprisingly contentious contest for a U.S. House seat in a solidly Republican district that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried by 18 percentage points last year.
Tuesday's special election is for the seat that Republican Tim Scott held until he was appointed to the Senate. If Colbert Busch wins, she instantly will become one of the most endangered Democrats in the 2014 elections. If Sanford wins, it could mark a career turnaround.
Early on, Sanford, a three-term congressman before he was governor, appeared to have a significant edge in the district along the Atlantic coast. But all that changed a few weeks ago with the revelations that his ex-wife had accused him in court documents of trespassing at her home on Super Bowl Sunday.
Sanford disputes that, but has struggled to explain the alleged episode that reminded voters of the 2009 scandal in which he used a story about hiking on the Appalachian Trail to cover up a visit to his then-mistress in Argentina.
Democrats have tried to take advantage of the moment, sensing an opportunity to gain a seat on GOP turf.
Colbert Busch is the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, the star of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." She largely has stuck to issues such as job creation and debt reduction while ads from outside groups pound the former governor.
The race probably will be decided by which side can get more of their core supporters to the polls, which is a difficult feat in a special election.