CHARLESTON, S.C. - Former Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford revived a scandal-scarred political career by winning back his old congressional seat Tuesday in a district that had not elected a Democrat in three decades.
The comeback was complete when he defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert. With 87 percent of the precincts reporting, Sanford had 54 percent of the vote.
Sanford, who turns 53 later 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 would not run for office again.
Sanford told a cheering crowd of more than 100 supporters after his election victory that he has experienced human grace as he came back from political scandal to rebuild his political career.
He said that, unless you experience God's grace, you really don't get it. He said he didn't get it before, when his career was sidelined by a scandal in which he admitted an extramarital affair.
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.
Green Party candidate Eugene Platt also ran.
Sanford's First District, slightly reconfigured from the one he held for three terms in the 1990s, is strongly Republican. Mitt Romney took it by 18 points in last year's presidential race. But Sanford had to battle against his own past 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 had 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 late last year. Gov. Nikki Haley then appointed the sitting congressman, Tim Scott, to fill DeMint's seat.