Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor whose political ascent was derailed by an extramarital affair, is making a comeback.
On April 2, Sanford secured the Republican primary nomination for the vacant seat in the first congressional district, a seat he held from 1995 to 2001.
Sanford easily held off his rival in the runoff election, former Charleston City Council member Curtis Bostic—after dispatching 15 other contenders in the initial election—by a margin of 57 to 43 percent of the vote.
He will face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch in May’s special election. Colbert-Busch has tremendous celebrity appeal and financial backing as the sister of television comedian Stephen Colbert, who has been active in her campaign.
At his victory speech on April 2, his fiancée and former mistress María Belén Chapur, the Argentine journalist for whom he lost marriage and risked his career, joined Sanford.
The candidate thanked volunteers and voters, saying that while he believes in “a God of second chances, at times voters are a little bit less forgiving,” according to the BBC.
The campaign is Sanford’s first foray into politics since 2011 when he completed his term of office as governor in disgrace. Once considered a rising Republican star and potential presidential contender, his reputation imploded in 2009 when he disappeared for six days, eventually revealing he had been in Argentina with Chapur and not hiking the Appalachian Trail as he had claimed.
After the admission, his wife of 21 years, Jenny, moved out of the governor’s mansion with the couple’s four sons and divorced him a year later.
Sanford weathered the scandal, a censure from the state legislature, ethics fines and calls for him to step down, and served out his term.
Now, he’s making inroads into South Carolina’s electorate, having sold himself as an experienced fiscal hawk facing a political neophyte in the person of Colbert-Busch, a businesswoman.
“I am running for Congress because our country’s future is at stake if we don’t get our hands around runaway government spending in Washington, and stand up to the big spenders in both parties,” Sanford said on his campaign website.
Even Democrats seem to be buying into Sanford—although the national Republican organization remains wary.
Democrat Ben Frasier, who lost to Colbert-Busch in this year’s Democratic primary, endorsed Sanford for the seat, which opened up when Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to replace Sen. Jim DeMint who announced in December that he was stepping down from his senate seat to take over the Heritage Foundation. The district includes Charleston, Hilton Head and some Lowcountry farmland.
“I am a Democrat, but a conservative one, and I am supporting Mark because I don’t think [Colbert-Busch] represents the conservative values of this district,” Frasier said, according to a press release on Sanford’s campaign website. “I know [Sanford] to be a man of integrity who will represent the District well. I am crossing party lines to make this endorsement because with all due respect to [Colbert-Busch] she is just too beholden to the political left to represent the Lowcountry effectively.”