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Disgraced Gov. Beats 15 Republicans
PHOTO: Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford speaks with reporters, March 19, 2013, at a polling place in Charleston, S.C.

Mark Sanford passed his first test in what might be a political comeback for the ages.

On Tuesday night, the disgraced former governor won first place in a 16-way Republican primary to retake the House seat he held from 1995 to 2001 in South Carolina's 2nd District.

As expected, Sanford, who left the governorship in 2011 after a scandal and a divorce, topped the field by a wide margin.

But Sanford's comeback journey has just begun: His "win" on Tuesday earned him a spot in an April 2 runoff, which is mandated when no candidate tops 50 percent of the vote, and his Republican opponent isn't yet known.

A recount could begin as early as Friday to determine whom Sanford will face, according to the state Election Commission.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, former Charleston County Council member Curtis Bostic led state Sen. Larry Grooms by 493 votes (.8 percent), placing their race second within the state's 1-percent margin for mandatory recounts.

If Sanford wins on April 2, he'll face Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democratic candidate who won her own primary on Tuesday, in the May 7 general election.

Delivering an acceptance speech of sorts, Sanford kept campaigning.

"It matters, I think, that I was rated No. 1 in the entire U.S. Congress by the National Taxpayers Union," Sanford said. "I think it matters that I was the first governor in the United States of America to turn back stimulus money at a time when it was not popular."

Sanford has focused on forgiveness and fiscal conservatism, as he's touted his budgetary record as governor.

"I have experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it," Sanford said in the first TV ad he's aired since launching his comeback.

Of his two possible opponents, Bostic carries the potential liability of not living in the district, which a local newspaper uncovered. Grooms enjoys the backing of U.S. Reps. Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney.

Sanford beat the expectations of South Carolina Republican insiders, taking in nearly 37 percent of the vote. According to internal campaign polls - which are not necessarily reliable - Republican state politicos expected Sanford to fall short of that mark.

If Sanford wins on April 2, he'll face Democratic candidate Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.

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