CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — In a story of political redemption, Mark Sanford is headed back to Congress after his career was derailed by scandal four years ago.
“I am one imperfect man saved by God’s grace,” the Republican told about 100 cheering supporters Tuesday after defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch to win back the 1st District seat he held for three terms in the 1990s. “It’s my pledge to all of you going forward I’m going to be one of the best congressmen I could have ever been.”
Although the race was thought to be close going into the voting, Sanford collected 54 percent of the vote against Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, in a district that hasn’t elected a Democratic congressman in more than three decades. About 32 percent of the district’s voters went to the polls. Green Party candidate Eugene Platt finished far behind.
“Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus,” Sanford told the crowd, referring to the man who, according to the Bible, Christ raised from the dead. “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 now never lost a race in four 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 — 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 and political ally, Jenny, divorced him.
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.