Ex-governor beats scandal, back in office

2013-05-08 09:16
Mark Sanford (AP, File)

Mark Sanford (AP, File)

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Charleston — Four years after a scandal with his Argentine mistress derailed his political career, ex-Republican Governor Mark Sanford once again holds a South Carolina political office, winning back his old congressional seat on Tuesday after a race in which he battled his past.

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

Sanford saw his political career disintegrate four years ago when as governor he disappeared for five days, telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He returned to admit in a tearful news conference that 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. They have four sons.

With all the precincts reporting in Tuesday's special election, Sanford had 54% of the vote to 45% for Colbert Busch. Green Party candidate Eugene Platt also ran.

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 on Tuesday that if he lost this race, he wouldn't run for office again.

"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.

"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 thanked his oldest son and his fiancée, 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.

Court complaint

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 percentage 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 on 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 football game alone.

The seat became vacant when US Senator Jim DeMint resigned from his Senate seat late last year. Governor Nikki Haley then appointed the sitting congressman, Tim Scott, to fill DeMint's Senate seat.

"We put up a heck of a fight, didn't we?" Colbert Busch told a crowd of supporters at a hotel in Charleston, across the Cooper River from where Sanford met his supporters. "The people have spoken, and I respect their decision."

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

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