COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Former Gov. Mark Sanford, who became notorious for claiming he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually visiting a lover in Argentina, is 90 percent certain to run for the congressional seat that he once held, two knowledgeable sources told The State on Friday.

Sanford, whose 2009 affair while he was governor damaged his political aspirations at the time, is not expected to formally announce his run until U.S. Rep. Tim Scott is sworn into the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3.

Scott was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday to succeed Jim DeMint, who is resigning to become the new head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

A special election will be held in the spring to fill Scott's seat, which includes much of the South Carolina coast. Filing starts three weeks after Scott is sworn in.

Sanford has name recognition and a $100,000 head start with money left over in his congressional election fund from 12 years ago, experts said. He likely has cleared several hurdles in all-but-deciding to run, sources said.

"He needed to line up financial support, he needed to get the infrastructure and, if he hasn't already, he needed make this good with Jenny," a GOP operative said referring with Sanford's ex-wife.

His former wife was on Gov. Haley's short list to succeed DeMint. Jenny Sanford has not ruled out a run for Congress in interviews, but sources don't expect her to run against her ex-husband.

Mark Sanford received a 30 percent favorability rating in a state poll take earlier this month from Public Policy Polling. More than half had an unfavorable opinion of the former governor.

Those poll results don't reflect the 1st District, a bulk of which includes Charleston and Beaufort counties where Sanford lives, the sources said.

"He would do better there," an operative said.

Sanford, a two-term Republican governor, was tea party frugal before it was politically fashionable, even voting against federal money for the new Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston. He served three terms in the U.S. House, representing the 1st District, from 1995 to 2001 before he was elected governor in 2002.

Once considered a possible GOP dark-horse presidential contender, Sanford's political career unraveled when he disappeared from the Governor's mansion, reportedly to walk the Appalachian Trail.

Instead, the married father of four had gone to Argentina to see his lover.

After being met by a reporter from The State at the Atlanta airport upon his return from Argentina, Sanford tearfully confessed. Subsequently divorced from Jenny Sanford, Gov. Sanford escaped impeachment but paid a record state ethics fine for using state assets.

Since leaving office, Sanford has appeared on Fox News as a political expert and commentator.

Sanford also became engaged to his Argentinian girlfriend, Maria Chapur.

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Gina Smith of the (Hilton Head) Island Packet contributed to this report.

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