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South Carolina, political phoenix?

Has any state gone from national punch line to potential political powerhouse any faster than South Carolina appears poised to do?

There’s been no shortage of bizarre and plain ugly behavior flowing out of the Palmetto State in the past year. You all know the litany: Gov. Mark Sanford’s Appalachian Trail adventure that led to an Argentine mistress and a very public and uncomfortable divorce; the nomination of the unknown and still-mysterious Alvin Greene as the Democratic Senate nominee; the head-scratching allegations of infidelity leveled against state Rep. Nikki Haley and the flat-out racist comments directed at her heritage.

No wonder the state earned the dubious honor of being tabbed the “stink hole” of Republican politics.

Suddenly, the day after runoffs in the state set the table for November’s elections, South Carolina appears to be on the brink of becoming one of the most visible, and important, GOP political power centers in the nation.

Haley’s easy victory over Rep. Graham Barrett (and, really, the state’s GOP establishment) has already launched her into a national star. Should she win, and she will be the favorite, Haley will become a critical voice in the GOP -- a governor outside of Washington who will have a huge voice in the party’s agenda going forward. More importantly, she will be courted relentlessly by those presidential candidates for the always-crucial South Carolina primary in 2012.

State Rep. Tim Scott looks to be on the road to becoming the first black Republican in the Congress since J.C. Watts in 2002 and the first from the Deep South since Reconstruction. On top of it all, Scott defeated the son of one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond to win the nomination. Scott will be favored this fall and, should he win, will be a high-profile newcomer to Washington in a party always anxious to show its diversity.

Less noticed in the election results is the growing list of successful conservative candidates backed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who’s become D.C.’s Godfather of the Tea Party movement -- or at least the anti-Washington movement, despite his perch as an incumbent senator.

DeMint’s candidates have knocked down establishment-backed favorites in several high-profile primary contests -- Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Mike Lee in Utah yesterday. In Florida, DeMint was an early backer of Marco Rubio before Gov. Charlie Crist bolted to run as an independent. And, in Colorado, DeMint-backed Ken Buck is leading former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in some -- though considered to be less reliable -- polls.

Lee is very likely to win this fall, and if he’s joined by some of these other anti-establishment Republicans, DeMint would have quite the little conservative base in the U.S. Senate, making South Carolina a powerful state in GOP politics.