It was the eerie, teary confession watched around the world.

On June 24, 2009 - a scant five years ago - then-Gov. Mark Sanford broke down on national TV as he detailed his six-day unexplained absence and revealed his marital infidelity to the voters of South Carolina.

"I let down a lot of people," Sanford told a crowd of reporters, state employees and stunned onlookers during a hastily called news conference. "That's the bottom line."

Photographs from the day show him wiping tears from his eyes and cheeks - indelible images that were widely published on TV, in newspapers and via the Internet.

Half a decade later, now-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford has been forgiven by many voters. The confession that put so much spotlight on him and the rest of South Carolina is a distant memory.

"I deal with the media in Washington," he said of the events of 2009. "It is not part of the conversation."

Back then, however, it was the only conversation.

For several days following the legislative session that year Sanford had been out of the public view. Media inquiries into his whereabouts were first met with hedging by his staff, followed by a story line that Sanford was off hiking the Appalachian Trail.

In reality, Sanford had left the country, flying to Argentina to meet with his then-mistress, a woman with whom he'd had a relationship for a year.

Upon returning to the United States, Sanford was met at the airport in Atlanta by a reporter from The (Columbia) State newspaper, quickly triggering his afternoon confession inside the cavernous first-floor lobby of the Statehouse.

"I'm a bottom-line kind of guy. It's going to hurt. I'm going to let the chips fall where they may," he said as he extensively detailed his affair with an Argentine woman, later identified as former television reporter Maria Belen Chapur. She is now his fiancee.

Sanford issued multiple apologies and pleas for forgiveness in the days and weeks that followed. While outrage came from several fronts, he survived the political fallout that followed to finish the remaining year-and-a-half of his term. His marriage to then-wife Jenny, however, ended in a quick divorce.

On the eve of the five-year anniversary of that news conference, Sanford spent part of Monday talking with members of the East Cooper Republican Women in Mount Pleasant. The visit was part of his habit of constituent drop-ins he's scheduled since being elected last year to his former 1st Congressional District seat. He returned to Washington after beating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, carrying some 54 percent of the vote.

During an interview Monday, Sanford spoke of the power of forgiveness, bringing up the warm church outpouring he received Sunday following the recent death of his mother's husband.

"I've been blessed to experience human forgiveness and human grace and kindness," he said. "You can go down the list."

Some of those in attendance at Monday's GOP gathering said Sanford's conduct, while disappointing then, today falls into the category of forgive and forget. They point out the nation faces bigger problems than infidelity.

"I've forgiven the man," said Republican voter Rosemary Koch, who spoke at length with Sanford on Monday before he headed out for his return flight to Washington. "God certainly has forgiven him."

"He's a strong politician," Koch added. "We need to stick with the strong ones."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551