(Photo: Reuters/ Randall Hill)
After a grueling political fight filled with personal drama that spurred even his Republican colleagues to desert him, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford experienced what the media is describing as redemption on Tuesday night when voters re-elected him to represent the state's First District in Congress.
"I am one imperfect man saved by God's grace," a triumphant Sanford reportedly told about 100 cheering supporters after beating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch on Tuesday.
In his comeback from a political career that was marred by a scandalous affair four years ago, Sanford will return to the Congressional seat he held for three terms in the 1990s, and he promised voters that he will give them his best.
"It's my pledge to all of you going forward I'm going to be one of the best congressmen I could have ever been," said Sanford, who won 54 percent of the votes. A Democrat has not been elected in the district for more than three decades.
Despite the conservative voting tradition of the district, political pundits had declared Sanford all but dead on arrival in the run up to the race because of his past scandal.
In 2009, while serving as governor of South Carolina, Sanford disappeared for five days and told his staff that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. When confronted about his claim, however, he eventually admitted in a tearful news conference that he was with his mistress in Argentina. The revelation forced his resignation and his wife, Jenny, divorced him. He is now engaged to his mistress.
Just over two weeks ago when he was trailing Colbert Busch by nearly 10 points in one poll, it seemed like his past infidelity would get the better of him. But numbers from the final poll just before the elections saw Sanford surge ahead with a one point lead over Colbert Busch, a statistical dead heat.
On Tuesday, however, his resounding win with 54 percent of the votes appeared miraculous to some onlookers. "Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus," said Sanford to his supporters after the win.
"I've talked a lot about grace during the course of this campaign," he added. "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."
Shortly after winning the GOP primary for the congressional seat, Sanford was asked in a CNN interview if he was concerned that his past would hurt his chances with women voters, and he declared that his win in the primary was a referendum on that point as many conservative women had voted for him.
"I think last night was a big referendum on the very point you make and I'd also say one thing that I've consistently done to this campaign is to acknowledge the fact that I fell back in 2009," he told CNN while pointing out that he intended to use his experience to refine his life and not define it.
When press further on how he felt his affair would affect his chances of winning, he highlighted that no one is perfect.
"I think that there are too many people in politics that think that they know it all and I think that they project this whole image of perfection," said Sanford.
"The perfect family the perfect person, the perfect this, the reality is none of us are perfect and I think that the sooner we recognize that within ourselves, the sooner we begin to have real conversations with other people. Because if I'm projecting that I'm perfect while you're projecting that you're perfect then we're not having a real conversation," he added.
The seat for the First Congressional District was left vacant after U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint resigned late last year. Congressman Tim Scott was appointed to fill it by Governor Nikki Haley.