Curtis Bostic was the sleeper candidate that few saw coming.
A smart ground game and support from social conservatives propelled the former Charleston County Council member to second place in Tuesday's GOP primary -- and a runoff in two weeks with former Gov. Mark Sanford.
But opinions are split on whether Bostic can make the mammoth jump from winning 13 percent of the vote Tuesday to defeating Sanford, who captured 37 percent.
One political group has conducted a survey saying the former governor will win handily in the April 2 runoff, while one of Bostic's former opponents believes the councilman has a shot.
"It's not only possible, but I'm expecting a close race," said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who finished third and conceded to Bostic on Wednesday.
Grooms, who is unsure if he will endorse either of the remaining candidates, expects his social-conservative supporters will vote for Bostic and those more interested in fiscal issues to be peeled off by Sanford.
Bostic will have to change his strategy, Grooms said, and launch TV ads and a full-out media campaign to win. To date, Bostic has relied more on word-of-mouth messages spread through the district's evangelical churches.
Bostic had only $57,000 in his campaign fund. Sanford, in contrast, had nearly $365,000 leading up to the primary. Both have raised and spent more since.
But Grooms doubts money will be an issue for Bostic.
"I hear he has the personal resources to do that. If he wants to self-fund, he probably can," Grooms said.
And he might not have to dip into his own pockets.
Bostic is already getting help from a new super PAC called the Coastal Conservative Fund, funded by natural-gas executive James Willard Kinzer of Kentucky and other Kinzer family members.
Kinzer and five of his relatives each donated $7,500 to Bostic on Feb. 11, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization. Kinzer and Quality Natural Gas, a Kinzer family company, also pumped $30,000 into the pro-Bostic super PAC.
Those family donations account for more than half of the money Bostic raised from individuals ahead of the primary, according to the center.
The super PAC has spent nearly $12,000 on an ad touting Bostic as a pro-life, Christian conservative and former Marine who looks out for taxpayers, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Attempts Wednesday to reach Bostic for comment on his relationship with the Kinzers were unsuccessful.
On Tuesday evening, Bostic said his approach would be to continue reaching out to individuals in their homes, on the phone and in the community to grow his support.
"There's 60-something percent (of voters) looking for something different (than Sanford), and I hope they like what we have to offer," he said.
Bostic has said he supports domestic energy production, including nuclear power plants and expanded ways to produce oil and natural gas.
Not everyone is convinced Bostic stands a chance.
A new poll by newly formed S.C. super PAC, Conservative Solutions, shows Sanford as a shoo-in.
Its survey of likely voters on Saturday and Sunday indicates that in a head-to-heard race, Sanford would take nearly 49 percent and Bostic about 36 percent. Nearly 15 percent are undecided, according to the survey, which has a 5 percent margin of error. Grooms' strongholds would also favor Sanford, particularly Berkeley County, the survey shows.
"If the results hold true, Mark Sanford will fill Tim Scott's congressional seat," said Luke Byars, a longtime S.C. Republican strategist hired to do the survey. "Sanford's back-to-the-basic message of restoring fiscal sanity to Washington is working."
While many of the GOP candidates talked at length about fiscal responsibility, Sanford was the one they associated with the message, Byars said.
The super PAC has filed with the Federal Election Commission but has not made any filings that would reveal its donors or its interest in the race. Its purpose is to support conservative candidates, Byars said, adding that it has not donated money to any candidate to date.
- Grooms concedes 1st Congressional District race to Bostic, March 20, 2013
- Mark Sanford awaits GOP runoff challenger; winner to face Colbert Busch in general election, March 19, 2013
- Beaufort County turnout low in SC 1st Congressional District primary, March 19, 2013