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Sanford gets his chance to debate Colbert Busch in S.C.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford meets the Democrat looking to end his bid for political redemption, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, in a high-profile debate Monday evening, just one week before the May 7 special election that will send one of them to Congress.

Colbert Busch and Sanford will share a stage for their first and only debate ahead of next Tuesday's special election to fill the vacancy that occurred following then-Rep. Tim Scott's, R, appointment to the U.S. Senate earlier this year.

Mic Smith / AP

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford speaks with reporters at Hay Tire & Automotive in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Monday, April 22, 2013.

The campaign has attracted an intense amount of coverage in the national media because of the two candidates involved. Sanford, the former governor whose term ended in ignominy following an extramarital affair that resulted in his divorce and an ethics rebuke, is seeking a chance at political redemption. Standing in his way is Colbert Busch, the Clemson University administrator whose candidacy has been aided by the fame of her brother — political satirist Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central. 

While Sanford entered the showdown with an upper hand over Colbert Busch in this traditionally Republican district, the race was thrown into turmoil in recent weeks by Jenny Sanford, the former governor's ex-wife. She filed court documents accusing Sanford of trespassing on her property, thereby reviving some of the ugly, public 2009 divorce that ended the former two-term governor's possible aspirations to run for president. 

In the days following that revelation, Democrats and their allies went on the attack with television ads attacking Sanford. Republicans, meanwhile, retreated, forcing Sanford to fend for himself in the campaign when the National Republican Congressional Committee announced it would not run ads in the race. (The most recent poll, which was conducted by automated phone interviews, suggested Colbert Busch had the advantage over Sanford; NBC News does not officially recognize those polls.) Sanford has responded to his perceived slide by casting Colbert Busch as a handmaiden of Democrats' relatively unpopular leaders in Washington. Sanford went so far as to debate a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to illustrate his point.

Still, Monday's debate might offer the candidates their best chance to affect the trajectory of the race before voters head to the poll. Perhaps in a reflection of which way things are going, Sanford's demanded more debates — that is, more opportunities to ding Colbert Busch in public. The showdown will be broadcast on C-SPAN.

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