By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Former Governor Mark Sanford advanced to a Republican Party runoff in a special primary election to fill one of South Carolina's seats in the House of Representatives, WCBD-TV projected on Tuesday.
The winner of the April 2 runoff will face Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of TV comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert, who easily won the Democratic Party nomination on Tuesday in her first run for political office.
The general election is set for May 7.
Sanford comfortably led the Republican field of candidates with almost 37 percent of ballots, according to results posted on the State Election Commission's website, but not enough to avoid a runoff.
Sanford will likely face attorney Curtis Bostic, a former U.S. Marine who served in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm and was later a member of Charleston County Council where he worked closely with then councilman, now Senator Tim Scott.
Bostic, who held a narrow lead in second place with 13 percent of the vote, is the founder and director of a non-profit organization, Remember, that provides aid in six countries and operates orphanages in Burma.
"These results show that the 1st District wants a congressman who will stand up to big spenders, regardless of party, and who has a record of doing so," Sanford said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
Colbert Busch won the Democratic contest by a landslide taking more than 95 percent of ballots cast. During the campaign she touted her experience as director of sales for a shipping line and a leader in advocating science and math education in South Carolina.
Her famous brother, host of the late night TV political comedy show, The Colbert Report, campaigned on her behalf.
"Our history tells us South Carolina has sent only two women to Washington," Colbert Busch told supporters on Tuesday night. "Perhaps that is why the voices of thousands of mothers and fathers living paycheck to paycheck are often drowned out by other priorities and agendas. When I was a young, single mother I personally knew that feeling. I am ready to speak up for those voices."
Sanford says he is seeking redemption after an affair in office that ended his marriage. Sanford's wife divorced him when the affair became public in 2009, after aides said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was in fact visiting Argentina.
He is now engaged to his former mistress Maria Belen Chapur, an Argentine journalist.
Sanford's margin with well over a third of the vote was "very impressive," but voters haven't necessarily forgiven him, said Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston. "It's certainly an important first step in his forgiveness tour."
Sanford, who held the congressional seat from 1995 to 2001, likes to highlight his record of "standing up to big spenders, regardless of party," his campaign said.
As governor, he carried two squealing piglets, named "Pork" and "Barrel," into the Statehouse in Columbia to protest the state's budget deficit. He was the first governor to formally reject federal stimulus money, his campaign said. In 2009, the state Supreme Court ordered him to accept $700 million in stimulus funds.
The congressional seat was vacated by Scott, who was appointed to replace Republican Jim DeMint in the Senate after he resigned in December to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The district, which was redrawn after the 2010 Census, encompasses the city of Charleston and parts of four nearby rural counties and stretches south along the coast to include wealthy Hilton Head Island.
(Editing by Dan Trotta, David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)