CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on Tuesday revived a scandal-scarred political career by winning back his old congressional seat in a district that hasn't elected a Democrat in three decades.
The comeback was complete when he defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert.
Sanford, who turns 53 this month, has never lost a race in three runs for Congress and two for governor. And he said before the votes were counted Tuesday that if he lost this race, he wouldn't run for office again. "I think you can go back in and you can ask for a second chance in a political sense once," he said after voting in the special election.
Sanford saw his political career disintegrate four years ago when he disappeared for five days, telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He returned to admit he had been in Argentina with his mistress — a woman to whom he is now engaged. Sanford later paid a $70,000 ethics fine, the largest in state history, for using public money to fly for personal purposes. His wife, Jenny, divorced him.
Sanford's 1st District, slightly reconfigured from the one he held for three terms in the 1990s, is strongly Republican and Mitt Romney took it by 18 points in last year's presidential race. But Sanford had to battle against his own past indiscretions and a well-financed campaign mounted by Colbert Busch in which she outraised her Republican rival.
Three weeks before the special election, news surfaced that Sanford's ex-wife had filed a court complaint alleging he was in her house without permission in violation of their divorce decree, leading the National Republican Congressional Committee to pull its support from the campaign. Sanford must appear in court Thursday on the complaint.
Sanford said he tried to get in touch with his ex-wife and was in the house so his youngest son would not have to watch the Super Bowl alone.
The seat became vacant when Sen. Jim DeMint resigned from his seat late last year. Gov. Nikki Haley then appointed the sitting congressman, Tim Scott, to fill DeMint's seat.