Four years ago, Mark Sanford was widely regarded as a potential 2012 presidential candidate.
Two months later, he was widely regarded as a laughingstock — and a political has-been who would be lucky to serve out his final 17 months as governor of South Carolina.
Today, he’s the newly elected congressman from the 1st District.
That remarkable political comeback wasn’t easily attained, though Mr. Sanford ended up with a more substantial margin over Elizabeth Colbert Busch in Tuesday’s special election than most analysts expected.
We endorsed Ms. Colbert Busch, citing “Sanford Fatigue” over his well-publicized personal problems, past and present, as one of our reasons for that choice.
But the voters have clearly spoken, turning out in nearly double the ranks that showed up for the March 19 Republican and Democratic primaries. And they have returned Mr. Sanford to the seat he held for three self-limited terms (1995-2001) before winning two terms as governor (2003-2011).
Whatever else you think of him, he has a record that few politicians can match — a perfect 6-0 in his bids for elective office.
Mr. Sanford’s consistent message of fiscal frugality obviously helped him carry the heavily Republican 1st District Tuesday despite the scandal he brought upon himself — and our state — when he went AWOL as governor to visit his mistress in Argentina in June 2009.
Now that he has weathered a vigorous campaign by Ms. Colbert Busch, we hope Mr. Sanford can justify the public’s renewed trust in him by fulfilling his pledges on the 2013 campaign trail.
During a visit to this newspaper last week, Mr. Sanford told us he learned important lessons during his years in Congress and the governor’s office. He conceded that “at times in politics I probably picked too many fights.”
He said that he now has a better grasp on the need, if elected, to bring “a greater level of humility in the limitations of my own perspective” to Congress. He added that he aimed to be “more focused on results” than ideology.
That doesn’t mean Mr. Sanford has abandoned his core principles of limited government — and his long-standing, well-placed concerns about Washington spending more than the taxpayers can afford.
He can fairly take credit for being a relatively early congressional voice in sounding that alarm — and in calling for comprehensive entitlement reform — when the voters first sent him to Washington nearly two decades ago.
When he became a member of the House in 1995, the national debt was $4.9 trillion.
Today, it’s $16.8 trillion.
Unfortunately, though, as a congressman Mr. Sanford too often made spending restraint not just his top priority but virtually his only priority. He tended to let his fixation on being a fiscal hawk override his duty to his district’s best interests. For instance, he stubbornly opposed earmark funding for Charleston Harbor dredging .
Likewise, as governor, his sweeping vetoes of budget bills were frequently overridden as he failed to effectively work together with his fellow Republicans who ran the Legislature.
However, after he became a national punch line over his “Appalachian Trail” misadventure, he was more prudent with his veto pen. As a direct result, more of his vetoes held up in the last year of his governorship than in any of the first seven.
Yes, he had a built-in edge Tuesday as the Republican nominee running for a seat that the GOP has held for more than three decades.
Still, considering recent polls showing this high-profile race up for grabs and his opponent’s fundraising advantage, Mr. Sanford scored a surprisingly resounding triumph Tuesday.
Now he has a fresh chance to redeem himself with those who were unwilling to cast a ballot for him Tuesday.
Meanwhile, though Ms. Colbert Busch’s camp is understandably disappointed, she did succeed in making this a competitive, two-party race. And in politics, as in business, competition is a positive force.
So wish Mr. Sanford well as he returns to Washington, having again won the voters’ approval.
We only hope he demonstrates a higher degree of pragmatism in Congress this time around.
Our nation needs bipartisan solutions, not ideological posturing.
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