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Correction: South Carolina-GOP Primary story

Thursday - 3/14/2013, 1:29pm  ET

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- In a story March 13 about next week's primary for an open U.S. House seat in South Carolina, The Associated Press erroneously cited outdated political lines in describing the 1st Congressional District. As a result of the most recent redistricting, the district now runs northeast along the Atlantic Coast from Hilton Head Island through Charleston and to the Georgetown County line; it does not include Myrtle Beach.

A corrected version of the story is below:

US House battle brewing among SC Republicans

Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford headlines field of 16 Republicans seeking vacant US House seat

By BILL BARROW and BRUCE SMITH

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- As national Republicans look for answers after last fall's disappointments, a congressional primary along the South Carolina coast has emerged as a free-for-all driven more by personality than debate over party direction.

Mark Sanford, the disgraced former governor, headlines the field of 16 candidates. He's attempting a comeback almost four years after disclosing an extramarital affair with a woman who is now his fiancee.

Several members of the Legislature are aiming to move up. Then there are archconservative local elected officials and a few political newcomers, including the son and namesake of media titan Ted Turner.

The group is living up to South Carolina's reputation for rough-and-tumble politics. What the race won't do is forge any new paths for a party lacking a national standard-bearer and needing to broaden its electoral base.

To many local Republicans, that's just fine.

"You can't be too conservative in South Carolina," said Katon Dawson, a former state GOP chairman. "If you get accused of that, you usually win."

The primary is Tuesday and the probable GOP runoff is set for April 2.

The Republican nominee will be favored in the May 7 general election to succeed Tim Scott, who held the seat until he joined the U.S. Senate in January. Scott became the South's first African-American senator since Reconstruction when Gov. Nikki Haley named him in December to succeed fellow Republican Jim DeMint, who left to lead the Heritage Foundation.

Republican Mitt Romney won the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses the state's Lowcountry, over President Barack Obama by 18 percentage points, compared with his 10-point statewide margin. The district runs northeast along the Atlantic Coast from Hilton Head Island through Charleston and to the Georgetown County line.

Warren Tompkins, the GOP consultant who managed George W. Bush's bitter presidential primary victory over John McCain in the state in 2000, said the key for Republicans in South Carolina and nationally "is the messenger. We've got a good message."

The wild card is whether Democrats can capitalize on personality themselves. Their likely candidate is Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a political newcomer and sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. Some Republicans temper their confidence with the idea that Colbert Busch would be competitive against Sanford.

Tompkins, who has no client in the race, described the Republican field as "Sanford and 15 people chasing him."

When Sanford isn't talking to voters about "a God of second chances," he highlights his record on budget and taxes. He once took live pigs to the Legislature to mock lawmakers for overriding his veto of a budget he said was full of pork projects. He was among the first GOP governors to reject some money included in Obama's 2009 stimulus law.

At a recent debate in North Charleston, several candidates called for eliminating the federal Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, though there was virtually uniform agreement that federal taxpayers should help expand the port of Charleston.

State lawmakers who can afford the television time boast of conservative credibility. In one ad, South Carolina's first modern GOP governor, Jim Edwards, tells one hopeful, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, that there is "a socialistic government up there, and I want you to go up there and stop it."

Despite talking about a need to work across ideological and party lines, Teddy Turner has spent time running against his more liberal father. A high school economics teacher, Turner blamed his family's politics on his father's ex-wife, actress Jane Fonda.

On the issues, the candidates emphasize border control and enforcement of existing laws when it comes to immigration, and most questions about gun regulations deal with mental health.

Tompkins says abortion and gay marriage aren't factors in the primary because South Carolina Republicans "stopped having social, cultural fights for the most part."

State Sen. Larry Grooms almost mocks the rhetoric in one television spot. "All the candidates are talking about the same issues we've heard before," he says. "Yes, I'm a pro-life Christian conservative who knows D.C. spends too much."

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