SC voters return Sanford to House despite scandal

Former governor, a Republican, wins 54% of the vote
2013-05-08T00:00:00Z SC voters return Sanford to House despite scandalThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Four years after scandal derailed his political career, ex-Republican Gov. Mark Sanford once again holds a South Carolina political office, winning back his old congressional seat Tuesday after a race in which he battled his past and an opponent who outdid him in fundraising.

Sanford's resurrection was completed when he defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, in a district that hasn't elected a Democratic congressman in more than three decades.

"Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus," Sanford told a crowd of more than 100 cheering supporters at his victory celebration, referring to the man who, according to the Bible, Christ raised from the dead.

With all precincts reporting, Sanford had about 54 percent of the vote.

"I've talked a lot about grace during the course of this campaign," he said. "Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God's grace, I don't think you really get it. And I didn't get it before."

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 one, he wouldn't run for office again.

He saw his political career disintegrate in summer 2009, when he disappeared for five days, telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He returned to admit in a tearful news conference he had been in Argentina with his mistress, 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 and political ally, Jenny, divorced him. They have four sons.

On Tuesday, he thanked his oldest son and his fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur, who stood near him after flying from Argentina. The woman he has called his "soul mate" left immediately after his victory speech.

Sanford's 1st 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.

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 Gov. Nikki Haley appointed the sitting congressman, Tim Scott, to fill the Senate seat vacated when U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint resigned late last year.

"We put up a heck of a fight, didn't we?" Colbert Busch told a crowd of supporters at a hotel in Charleston. "The people have spoken, and I respect their decision."

Colbert Busch had said after she voted that she felt positive and encouraged.

Sanford had already survived a 16-way GOP primary with several sitting state lawmakers and Teddy Turner, the son of media magnate Ted Turner. He also won the primary runoff.

Colbert Busch defeated perennial candidate Ben Frasier with 96 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.

Colbert Busch, 58, picked up the endorsement of The Post and Courier over the weekend.

The Charleston newspaper called her "a welcome tonic" for those who suffer from "Sanford Fatigue - a malady caused by overexposure to all of the cringe-worthy details of his 2009 disgrace as governor, his ongoing efforts for redemption via the political process, his resurgent personal problems, etc."

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