Former Gov. Mark Sanford completed the trail to political redemption tonight with a win over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch to reclaim his old seat in Congress.
With 99 percent of the returns in, Sanford led Colbert Busch 54 percent to 45 percent, according to Politico.com.
Sanford could be sworn in as soon as next week to the 1st District seat he held for three terms. It’s a remarkable comeback for a man many pundits had written off after his highly publicized affair with an Argentinian mistress made him the source of national ridicule in 2009.
Democrats jumped at the chance to pick up a traditionally safe GOP seat, putting up more than a $1 million to back Colbert Busch, a businesswoman and sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.
But in the end, the man with the plywood signs and plain-talking style carried the day with voters, who were willing to overlook Sanford’s baggage as well as fresh allegations of trespassing by his ex-wife, Jenny.
Sanford supporters are gathered at Liberty Tap Room in Mount Pleasant. Sanford’s fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur, is among the crowd on hand.
In his acceptance speech, Sanford acknowledged his faults and thanked the “angels” that helped him along the way. Sanford admitted he was a flawed man and candidate, but thanked supporters and Chapur.
Sanford said the race came down to a difference in ideas and that Washington, D.C., is heading to a tipping point
Colbert Busch, at Charleston Renaissance Hotel, was introduced by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. “We thank Elizabeth for standing up,” Riley said. “Our country needs people like that.”
Colbert Busch took the stage with two dozen members of her family to concede.
“We put up a heck of a fight, didn’t we?” she asked. “The people have spoken, and I respect their decision.” When the crowd murmured, she said, “No, I respect their decision. This is the beauty of our country… I can assure you I will continue to fight for all of you.”
Some of her supporters echoed a remark that outgoing S.C. Democratic Chair Dick Harpootlian made Friday, saying if Colbert Busch doesn’t win, then the district is unwinnable for Democrats.
Sanford will serve out the final year and a half of the term vacated by Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate this year.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden released a statement congratulating Sanford, saying the “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,” he said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee pulled its support from Sanford’s campaign last month following the trespassing allegations, a move that cost him symbolically and financially.
Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest Tea Party political action committee, congratulated Sanford on his victory.
“Today, a grassroots issue-based campaign upset the national Democratic campaign machine,” Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said. “Voters saw past the personal attacks and elected a Tea Party candidate who is willing to stand up for fiscal responsibility and limited government.”
In addition, Independent Women’s Voice President and CEO Heather R. Higgins said Sanford’s victory indicates the nation is a step closer to repealing federal health care reform.
“That’s one step closer to averting the ObamaCare ‘train wreck,’ as it has been described by two prominent Democrat Senators — Max Baucus and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,” Higgins said.
Exit polls with Charleston area voters showed the race breaking along traditional party lines with Colbert Busch failing to attract the large numbers of seniors and suburbanites who dominate the district and whose support would be needed to spark an upset.
Many Republicans said they were willing to forgive. “I think he’s paid for his mistakes,” said James Island voter Christine Baldree, 26.
Bruce Davis, 73, of Mount Pleasant, voted Sanford “because Obama’s agenda is worse than Sanford’s mistakes,” he said, a partial reference to Sanford’s ploy of the last two weeks to paint Colbert Busch as a solid vote for House Democrats.
Rhonda Capps, a 44-year-old mom from Mount Pleasant, voted for Sanford at Seacoast Church. Capps said she had been put off by Colbert Busch’s expensive, negative campaign, which she described as “tacky.”
The race had been one of the most expensive ever seen on the coast, drawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside group spending, especially from Democrats who saw the opportunity to pick up what otherwise is considered a safe GOP seat.
The hotly contested race kept Lowcountry TV sets humming, as both candidates bought several ads for regular rotation.
Colbert Busch raised more than $1.1 million and was helped with more than $600,000 in separate ad buys, mostly attacking Sanford, from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Majority PAC and VoteVets.
But Sanford raised more than $750,000 and also out-advertised Colbert Busch on her brother’s Comedy Central show.
Sanford’s found eager donors despite his personal problems, such as an April 16 revelation that his ex-wife had filed a trespassing complaint against him in Family Court. Sanford claimed he was only trying to watch the super Bowl with his son.
He faces a court appearance Thursday in Charleston County Family Court to answer the allegation.
The election drew all sorts of national attention. Sanford began the day on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, telling his former congressional colleague that he felt a mix of calm and exhaustion as “judgment day” arrived.
Sanford spent most of the segment defending his past behavior, including his agreement to pay a record $74,000 in ethics fine. He explained some of that stemmed from using business class tickets, which previous governors had done. “I’m not saying it’s that (a witch hunt),” he said, “but I’m saying there’s more to the story than meets the eye.”
Chuck Todd of NBC News called this “the ‘Seinfeld’ special election” because it has had entertaining characters but little larger meaning. “It’s a race that appears to signify, well, nothing, especially as it relates to 2014 and 2016,” he wrote. Other national media descended upon Charleston Tuesday to watch the show’s finale.