In one of the most crowded U.S. House races in recent state history, 19 candidates have filed to run for the 1st Congressional District seat vacated by Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate.
Filing closed at noon Monday for the district that spans parts of five counties, including a portion of Beaufort County. Recently redrawn by the GOP-controlled legislature, district voters are expected to pick a Republican in the May 7 special election.
But first, the crowded field almost certainly ensures a runoff -- at least among the 16 Republicans -- that would be March 19.
"I don't recall a larger group of candidates for a state or federal office in recent history," said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission.
Special elections, which entail less time on the campaign trail and less money to be raised, often attract many contenders.
"Add to that that there is lots of interest in replacing a national star like Tim Scott and that there's no prohibitive favorite in the race, and it makes sense," said Tony Denny, a state Republican strategist. "(Former Gov.) Mark Sanford starts out as a front-runner but with serious flaws. No one sees him as unbeatable. That makes the field wide open."
The race is certain to attract lots of national attention, too, thanks to a matchup that pits Sanford, attempting to fight his way back from a 2009 extramarital affair, against fellow Republican Teddy Turner, son of media mogul Ted Turner and the only Republican in the Turner family. Not to be outdone, the Democratic side features Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, sister to late-night comedian and Charleston native Stephen Colbert, who had his own fun diving into S.C. politics.
In 2011, Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," met with S.C. Republican Party officials to buy naming rights for the state's first-in-the-South GOP presidential primary. Party leaders declined the comedian's request to name the primary "The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary."
And then there's the curious case of Democrat Ben Frasier, a longtime thorn in the S.C. Democratic Party's side, who has run dozens of times for various S.C. offices, including a couple of tries for the 1st Congressional District.
In 2010, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Charleston Democrat, said he believed Frasier and two other Democrats were plants by unnamed people with money and unknown motives. That year, Frasier trounced fellow Democrat Robert Burton in the primary, even though Burton was backed by S.C. Democratic leaders. The seat ultimately was won by Scott, a Republican.
Reached briefly by phone Monday, Frasier said he would soon reveal in a press conference why he was running again. Later efforts to reach Frasier were unsuccessful.
Scott won re-election to the district in November, topping Democratic nominee Bobbie Rose by 28 percentage points. He vacated the seat when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to succeed Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican who retired with four years remaining in his term to lead the Heritage Foundation.
Rose contemplated another run but said Monday she changed her mind.