Disgraced, Horny Ex-Governor Wins Special Election Over Steven Colbert’s Sister And Lives To Tell The Tale

After having an affair with an Argentinean mistress and then lying about it to basically everyone, you’d think that former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford would be done with politics. Yet Sanford, never one to be deterred by such allegations, announced his campaign months ago to win a seat in the House of Representatives left vacated by Tim Scott’s resignation and surprised everyone on Tuesday by winning it by a hefty margin.

Sanford’s upset victory is a testament to his own hard work but also highlights an example in which policy issues trump personal ones.  His successful rebranding shows how any politician can come back from the brink of political irrelevancy with a bit of natural charm.

Sanford’s comeback opportunity came when Republican Jim DeMint left the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley appointed Scott to replace him, opening up Scott’s House seat for a special election. This seat was the very same one that Sanford had already held for three terms back in the 1990s, and Sanford got the chance to reclaim it.

His opponent was Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a Democrat and the sister of Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert. Colbert Busch had a significant cash advantage over Sanford and was helped by outside Democratic groups running ads that highlighted the affair that ended Sanford’s marriage and governorship. By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee had backed Sanford months ago but pulled out after allegations that Sanford had trespassed on his former-wife’s property and in her house. So it wasn’t as surprise that Busch Colbert was leading in the polls as late as three weeks ago.

Yet Sanford was able to bridge the gap and overcome other political stumbles along the way with the help of his own campaigning experience and strong team of political consultants by his side. Colbert Busch was a newcomer who made rookie mistakes; she made few public appearances, avoided reporters’ questions and had difficulty articulating her positions on certain issues (when speaking to CNN on whether she supported gun control, she didn’t give a clear answer—and not objecting to gun control likely cost her votes in South Carolina).  Sanford made as many as 11 public appearances on a given day and was out campaigning just about every day. Sanford used religion to his advantage by adopting religious language to describe his personal journey of redemption,  speaking about a “God of second chances” to appeal to the district’s many evangelical voters.

And ultimately Sanford and his team were successfully able to move the focus of the campaign away from the affair and towards painting Colbert Busch as big government Democrat with ties to Nancy Pelosi. In a state where Mitt Romney led Obama by 18 points, Sanford had an advantage by simply being a Republican. And while Sanford’s margin of victory—9 points—isn’t as large, it’s bigger than what most predicted. Sanford’s success shows that despite personal stumbles, he was able to mobilize voters that supported his policies and agreed with his rhetoric. While some of those voters likely voted with baited breaths, those votes count just the same. Now we get to see how he deals with his fellow Republicans in Washington who had left him for dead. Its all going to be fun to watch.

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