Two years after Mark Sanford left the South Carolina governor's office tarred by an adultery scandal, he completed an unlikely political comeback to win a special congressional election Tuesday. Sanford defeated Democratic neophyte Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of the late-night satirist Stephen Colbert, in the Republican-leaning 1st District. He reclaims a House seat he once held for three terms.

The bitter race had been expected to be tight, but The Associated Press called it for Sanford about 90 minutes after the polls closed.

The Charleston-based seat, which spans five counties along the coast, is considered reliably Republican. Mitt Romney carried the district by 18 points over Barack Obama in 2012.

But national Democrats made a serious play for the seat after Sanford emerged as the Republican nominee. The national GOP all but abandoned Sanford, who at one point was considered a possible presidential hopeful before he admitted cheating on his wife with an Argentine mistress whom he called his "soul mate."