Voters in coastal South Carolina on Tuesday will choose between former Republican Governor Mark Sanford and Democratic businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a personality-driven U.S. House race that has drawn national attention.
A poll released on Sunday showed a tight race between the political veteran and the first-time candidate, with Sanford leading 47 percent to 46 percent over Colbert Busch, whose brother is television political satirist Stephen Colbert.
The margin of error for the survey of 1,239 likely voters was plus or minus 2.8 percent, according to Public Policy Polling.
Sanford, 52, is looking for a political comeback after his efforts to hide an extramarital affair marred his second term as governor, which ended in 2011. He previously held the First Congressional District seat from 1995 to 2001.
Sanford trailed Colbert Busch by nine points two weeks ago in a poll taken soon after revelations that Sanford's ex-wife had accused him of trespassing at her home. Sanford said he went there to watch the Super Bowl with one of their four sons.
"Two weeks ago, a lot of Republicans were really unhappy with Sanford," said Kendra Stewart, a political scientist at the College of Charleston. "But now I see them holding their nose on Tuesday and going to the ballot box and voting for someone they would rather not vote for. It's going to be close."
Speaking on MSNBC on Tuesday as the polls opened, a visibly tired Sanford urged voters not to focus on his past personal behavior but on his record on fiscal issues.
"In the world of politics, what people want to do is they want to take any event that was not good and make it definitional as to your life ... we're all going to make mistakes in life," he said on the television network's "Morning Joe" program, adding that the long campaign has left him "worn out."
MSNBC said Colbert Busch was also invited on the show to speak ahead of the election but declined. In a statement on Tuesday, she urged voters "to send me to Washington to create good jobs, get our fiscal house in order and be a representative who they can trust."
A win for Colbert Busch, 58, would make her the first Democrat to represent the First Congressional District since the early 1980s and only the second woman to be elected to Congress from South Carolina.
It would not, however, shift the balance of power in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority, 232 to 201 with two vacancies.
Sanford has been the subject of attack ads that accuse him of deserting the state in 2009 when the then-married governor tried to hide a six-day visit with his mistress in Argentina by saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
He subsequently divorced and is now engaged to the other woman, Maria Belen Chapur.
Colbert Busch last month hammered her rival over his personal transgressions at their only debate, and a previous poll had shown her with the lead.
Sanford has accused Colbert Busch of having ties to unions and national Democrats, who are unpopular in the Republican-leaning district.
He called Tuesday's race a larger referendum on U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of the 2014 midterm election, and urged voters to trust him again.
"One event does not define your life," he told MSNBC.
The special election is being held to fill the seat vacated by Republican Tim Scott when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Nikki Haley in December.
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