Sanford returns to political life with 1st District win

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV/AP) -- Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has won the 1st District race to replace Tim Scott, the Associated Press reported Tuesday night.

Results were announced around 8:30 p.m.

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 wouldn't run for office again.

"I think you can go back in and you can ask for a second chance in a political sense once," he said Tuesday after voting in the special election.

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 1st District, slightly reconfigured from the one he held for three terms in the 1990s, is strongly Republican and Mitt Romney took it by 18 points in last year's presidential race. But Sanford had to battle against his own past indiscretions 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 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 U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint resigned from his Senate seat late last year. Governor Nikki Haley then appointed the sitting congressman, Tim Scott, to fill DeMint's seat.

Colbert Busch had said after she voted in Mount Pleasant, across the Cooper River from Charleston, that she felt positive and encouraged. But in the end, despite Sanford's past being an issue for some voters, she was defeated.

Gabriel Guillard, 49, a massage therapist and teacher, said she liked Colbert Busch but would have voted for anyone but Sanford.

"I would do anything to make sure Mark Sanford doesn't get back in because of his past behavior," she said. "And I am so tired of South Carolina being a laughingstock. I'm so sick of it."

Others didn't let the past dictate. Marion Doar, 79 and retired from careers in the military and business, said he voted for Sanford.

"Sanford was a fine fellow," he said. "He still is a fine fellow. Following his heart as he did was foolish but it happens."

Sanford already has 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."

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a woman Sanford spent much of the race linking to his opponent, hailed Colbert Busch for showing the 1st District could be put in play by a Democrat.

"With an independent voice and trusted values, businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch put an overwhelmingly Republican district in play.{} She is a proven job creator who is committed to putting South Carolinians back to work, responsibly reducing the deficit, and protecting seniors.{} Elizabeth ran a tough campaign, and the outcome of this election only strengthens her record of fighting for her state and community," she said.

"Of course I am disappointed in the outcome of the 1st district race.{} Elizabeth was an outstanding candidate and would have made a wonderful member of Congress, but the majority of the voters in the First District felt otherwise. I have always worked with all members of the South Carolina delegation for the betterment of South Carolina and its people," said Rep. Jim Clyburn, who campaigned with Colbert Busch in the final days of the race.

Sanford, despite losing national GOP support, picked up the endorsement of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite who is well-known in the district.

The state GOP's chair offered his congratulations to Sanford.

"Tonight, the voters of the First District made it crystal clear that the baggage of Obamacare and Barack Obama's liberal policies are too much, even for a credible Democrat candidate to overcome. This is a very bad forecast for Vince Sheheen and the Democratic ticket in 2014," said Chad Connelly.

Tim Scott, who held the seat Sanford just won before being nominated for the Senate, issued a statement Tuesday night congratulating Sanford.

"Congratulations to Mark on a successful campaign. This was a hard fought contest, and now I look forward to working with the entire delegation as we continue our efforts to reduce spending and enact meaningful reforms to solve the tough problems our nation faces," he said.

House Majority PAC Executive Director Alixandria Lapp released a statement on the Republican victory.

"The truth is that despite all the chatter about the purported Republican rebrand, Republicans continue to select flawed candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock - and now, once again, Mark Sanford," she said. "The House Republican caucus has added yet another ethically challenged embarrassment who will be an albatross around the neck of every Republican forced to answer for Mark Sanford's embarrassing and reckless behavior."

And the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement.

"These results demonstrate just how devastating the policies of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are for House Democrats in 2014. Democrats spent more than $1 million trying to elect a candidate who was backed by the Democrat machine, but at the end of the day, running on the Obama-Pelosi ticket was just too toxic for Elizabeth Colbert Busch," said NRCC Chairman Greg Walden.

The NRCC pulled support from Sanford after news surfaced that he was due in court later this week on allegations that he was trespassing at his ex-wife's house in February.

And the Tea Party Express, a group that threw support behind Sanford late in the race, issued a statement shortly after the winner was announced by the AP.

"Today, a grassroots issue-based campaign upset the national Democratic campaign machine. Voters saw past the personal attacks and elected a Tea Party candidate who is willing to stand up for fiscal responsibility and limited government. Mark Sanford was once rated number one by the National Taxpayers' Union for his efforts to reduce spending and the national debt, and we are confident that he will bring that same conservative leadership back to Washington, D.C.," said Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer.