By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Voters went to the polls on Tuesday to choose among several high profile candidates in a special primary election to fill a vacant seat in coastal South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.
Sixteen Republicans competing in Tuesday's primary include former Governor Mark Sanford, who gained notoriety in 2009 for trying to hide an affair with an Argentine woman, and Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner. If no Republican gets more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the top two vote-getters will meet in a primary run-off on April 2.
Two Democrats on Tuesday's ballot include Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of TV comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert. She faces a perennial candidate in the Democratic primary and is expected to win in her first run for political office.
Sanford says he is seeking redemption after the affair which ended his marriage. "I've experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes," Sanford said in a campaign ad. "But in their wake, we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it."
Sanford's wife divorced him when the affair became public, 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.
The congressional vacancy was left by Republican Tim Scott, who was appointed to replace Republican Jim DeMint in the U.S. Senate after he resigned last December to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The general election is set for May 7.
The district, which was redrawn after the 2010 Census, takes in the city of Charleston and parts of four nearby rural counties and stretches south along the coast to include wealthy Hilton Head Island.
Sanford, who held the congressional seat from 1995 to 2001, spent Monday in the Charleston area at businesses and announced campaign stops for Tuesday in Charleston. Sanford has been pointing to 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.
Colbert Busch released her second television ad, with the Port of Charleston as her backdrop, over the weekend. She touted her experience as director of sales for a shipping line and a leader in advocating science and math education in South Carolina.
Under South Carolina's new voter photo identification law, voters will have to present any one of five photo identifications, which include a military ID, driver's license, passport or new voter registration card. Voters without a photo ID can state a reasonable impediment to their having one and cast a provisional ballot.
(Editing by David Adams and Grant McCool)