(WASHINGTON) — Mark Sanford has pulled off a political comeback some thought impossible.
After the infamous Argentine affair tarnished his governorship in 2009, and after state officials slapped him with 37 ethics charges later that year for unrelated trips, Sanford left office as one of the nation’s top political pariahs.
Now Sanford is back, having retaken the South Carolina House seat he held in the 1990s. With 187 of 317 precincts reporting, Sanford led 54 percent to Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s 45 percent.
Sanford defeated Colbert Busch, the sister of Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, despite her significant cash advantage — and despite some aggressive ads from outside Democratic groups highlighting the affair that ended his marriage and his term as governor.
Thanking his supporters, his opponent, and his fiance in his victory speech, Sanford posed his improbable comeback as a triumph of fiscal conservatism.
“I said from the beginning of this campaign that we are indeed at a tipping point in this civilization, and that if we didn’t get things right there would be real consequences for the American dollar, American savings, and the American way of life,” Sanford told supporters.
From the beginning, Sanford sought forgiveness and appeared humbled.
“I have experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it,” Sanford told voters in his first TV ad.
Had he lost, it likely would have been the end of Sanford’s political career: He has said that if he lost, he would not seek public office again.
But Sanford appears to be back for good. His Republican district voted solidly for Mitt Romney in 2012, and having won over the district’s voters for a second time in his career, the seat is red enough — and Sanford is conservative enough — that he’s poised to hold it without a significant challenge from either the left or right.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jose Pagliery, CNN
Scott Stuntz, Teton Valley News
Stephen Collinson and MJ Lee, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN