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Sanford seeks 'redemption' in wild congressional race

By Jim Acosta, CNN National Political Correspondent
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Tue March 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Gov. Mark Sanford, disgraced by affair, seeks old congressional seat
  • DeMint's resignation triggered events that resulted in open seat in Congress
  • Sanford isn't only distraction in race -- Ted Turner's son is one of Sanford's rivals
  • Whichever of 16 candidates wins GOP race will likely face sister of Stephen Colbert

Charleston, South Carolina (CNN) -- In South Carolina, Mark Sanford needs no introduction.

But after the former governor of the state infamously told the public he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was actually traveling to Argentina to carry on an extramarital affair, a reintroduction wouldn't hurt.

"At some level or another we all hope for redemption," Sanford told CNN in an interview.

Sanford is one of 16 Republican candidates seeking to win an open seat in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. It's the same seat Sanford once held before he ran for governor.

An opportunity to go to Washington opened up in December when Republican Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint.

Sanford seeks forgiveness in return to political life

With a bitter divorce from his wife, Jenny, now behind him, Sanford is asking the public for a second chance. In his own informal poll of the voters, he's finding an openness to forgive, if not forget.

"What I would say on the larger notion of forgiveness is that some people forgave me the next day. Some people will never forgive me," Sanford said.

Colbert talks sister's run for Congress
Mark Sanford: How I learned from scandal
2009: Gov. Sanford: I've been unfaithful

Sanford's colorful not so distant past is far from the only distraction in the race.

One of Sanford's GOP rivals, Teddy Turner is the son of CNN founder Ted Turner. His family ties, deep pockets and sudden rise in some internal polling have made him a big target.

Turner's parody ad: "Sugar, would you give me one more chance?"

Opponents are filling mailboxes with attack ads on Turner, with some tying the candidate to one of his father's ex-wives, Jane Fonda.

"You know it's absolutely amazing how dirty the game is, how expensive the game is. It just doesn't make sense," Turner said.

If that's not enough to grab the voters' attention, the winner of Tuesday's Republican primary will likely face the Democratic favorite, Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

Her brother just so happens to be Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report."

Only she pronounces Colbert with a hard "T." Colbert Busch insists her candidacy is no laughing matter.

"This is not a joke. I don't think anybody would think that this was a joke. This is all too important. All too important with the condition that the country is in," Colbert Busch told CNN.

Trending: Colbert - "It's my sister and I'm willing to help her"

Many of the other candidates in the race also deserve to be taken seriously.

One potential spoiler on the Republican side is State Sen. Larry Grooms. He has collected some important local endorsements and boasts a staff that includes Hogan Gidley, a former spokesman for Rick Santorum, a former senator and Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

But with such a short election schedule and a Star Wars bar full of candidates, the race could turn on name recognition. Translation: advantage Sanford.

John Avlon, a CNN political contributor whose family has lived in South Carolina for decades, said Sanford's honesty about his imperfect personal life has made him more relatable to voters.

"There is an affection for a guy who admits he's a sinner and asks for forgiveness, especially down here," Avlon said.

Despite his transgressions, the former governor insists he is worthy of the public trust. Sanford maintains he learned some important life lessons after wondering off-trail.

"Oddly enough, I think you learn from the valleys of life rather than the peaks," Sanford said.

Sanford's ad: 'None of us go through life without mistakes'

CNN's Matt Hoye contributed to this report

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