South Carolina TV Wars: Mark Sanford vs. the World

(Image Credit: Paul J. Richards /AFP/Getty Images)

Mark Sanford wants you to know that he has learned from his mistakes and will try to change Washington if he gets there.

That's the message of his first TV ad, now visible on cable airwaves in Charleston, S.C., where the former governor is attempting the political comeback of the decade. With more ads to come, Sanford has reserved $160,000 worth of TV time before the March 19 primary, according to his campaign.

Sanford, who famously resigned the governorship amid an Argentinian affair, faces 15 other candidates in his race to reclaim the state's First Congressional District, which he represented from 1995 to 2001, before assuming the governorship. Just about every kind of local pol has come out to oppose him: current and former state legislators; a sheriff; a personal-injury lawyer; a former JAG officer; a former Secret Service agent; a school-board trustee; and a local high school teacher, to name a few.

"Our message is simple: I've learned a lot over the past few years about grace and forgiveness, but one thing hasn't changed. And that's my absolute commitment to watching out for taxpayers and getting spending under control," Sanford wrote in an email to supporters announcing the new ad.

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Sanford, 52, is the odds-on favorite, according to a Republican source in the state, but he'll need to reach more than 50 percent in the primary to avoid a runoff. With so many other candidates, that could be tough. The runoff would be held April 2.

The former governor wasn't first to launch an air attack, by any means.

One of his more promising opponents seems to be Teddy Turner, son of the media magnate Ted Turner. A high school economics teacher in Charleston, Turner had been running ads before he filed for the race in mid-January, and he ran them during both the AFC and NFC championship NFL games, according to a source in the state.

Turner is relatively unknown as a political presence in the state, and his ads have introduced him to voters. In this one, which debuted Feb. 12, Turner takes a subtle jab at Sanford: "What I'm not is a career politician," Turner says to the camera.

Another posits that his experience as a CNN news cameraman in the Soviet Union made him into a conservative.

Two other candidates are airing TV ads in Charleston.

Chip Limehouse, running as an economic conservative, bluntly announces he's running for Congress and promotes his conservative views and state-budgeting experience in this 30-second introductory spot:

Another focuses on World War II vets who oppose Obama:

More directly related to Sanford's prospects, former state Sen. John Kuhn is running a 30-second ad that could stand in as a PSA for marital fidelity. In it, Kuhn proclaims his "personal responsibility, faith in God, devotion to my family" and informs viewers that "I married my college sweetheart" while the words "committed to family" flash onscreen.

Sanford didn't need to begin airing TV ads before anyone else - voters already know who he is - but he's not the only one who can make a splash on TV or sustain a media campaign in this crowded race.