South Carolina 1 Special a Photo Finish?

Stuart Rothenberg May 6, 2013 · 11:08 PM EDT

With the special election in South Carolina just one day away, both Republicans and Democrats are unsure of the outcome.

Former Palmetto State Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, began with a narrow advantage over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, but even Republicans pulling for Sanford believe that he has failed to run the strong race he needed to in order to hold onto the reliably GOP seat.

When Sanford’s ex-wife’s complained that he trespassed at her home, many observers believed that it was the beginning of the end for the former governor, even given the Republican nature of the district.

But Sanford did not throw in the towel, and Democrats are nervous about whether his efforts during the campaign’s final weeks to make the race into a referendum on Colbert Busch, and on her ties to organized labor, has turned the contest toward the Republican.

Recent polling has shown everything from an even race to a narrow Colbert Busch advantage. A May 4-5 poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, for example, showed Sanford at 47 percent and Colbert Busch at 46 percent. But, as one Republican observed, “I have to believe that the anti-Sanford voters are more motivated than the pro-Sanford voters,” and many Republicans seem to be assuming that their nominee will go down to defeat.

When the results are in Tuesday night, the spinning will begin. But while the contest has received plenty of national attention, it now appears that the outcome will be largely devoid of significance.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has kept arm’s length from the race, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC have invested heavily in the contest. Given the uniqueness of this special election, it’s hard to see why either a Sanford victory or a Colbert Busch win would mean much – or anything – for 2014.

Obviously, Democrats would hate to lose the election after investing so heavily in it. But their failure to defeat Sanford wouldn’t say anything about their ability to win Democratic-leaning or swing districts next year.

The Rothenberg Political Report still has the race as a Toss-up/Tilting to the Democrat, but any outcome is possible. Don’t be shocked at the result, no matter who wins.