Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford overcame the scandal that destroyed his marriage and presidential hopes, winning a race for Congress in what has to be considered the biggest political comeback in recent memory.
Abandoned by the national campaign committee of his own party and outspent heavily by his opponent, Sanford on Tuesday defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, 54 percent to 45 percent, to win a special election in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.
Sanford offset his disadvantages by nationalizing the race, a former South Carolina congressman told Newsmax.
Sanford "managed to nationalize the race and there was clearly a strong triumph of concerns about national issues over candidate problems," said former GOP Rep. John Napier.
Three weeks ago, Sanford appeared dead in the water when it was reported that his ex-wife Jenny had filed a complaint that he had trespassed on her property.
Despite Sanford's explanation that he was watching the Super Bowl with one of their four sons, the incident revived memories of his much-publicized 2009 extramarital affair and led to the National Republican Congressional Committee pulling its support for the nominee.
In the wake of the embarrassing reports, a Public Policy Polling survey showed Colbert Busch leading Sanford by a margin of 50 percent to 41 percent in the district.
But Sanford managed to turn the tide in a district that is solidly conservative by drawing attention to his opponent's political party and the support she received from labor unions.
Sanford drew ridicule from Democrats and some of the press when he debated a cardboard cutout of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
But with a Gallup Poll showing Pelosi was the least-liked of any major congressional leader, the cutout drove home the point that his opponent would vote for Pelosi as speaker of the House over John Boehner, and boosted Sanford's campaign.
Sanford also underscored that one of Colbert Busch's large campaign contributors was the International Association of Machinists union, which launched the celebrated lawsuit to try to prevent Boeing from opening an aircraft facility into right-to-work South Carolina.
The former governor also had the backing of most state and national right-to-life organizations and, in the closing days of the race, won endorsements from numerous state GOP and conservative leaders.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly; South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott; and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, along with his father Ron, all weighed in for Sanford.
Those endorsements clearly worked for Sanford in a district Mitt Romney carried last year with 54.6 percent of the vote.
As national pundits and local observers in the Charleston-area district scrambled to explain how Sanford beat the odds, Democrats had serious questions of their own.
If they could not win a race with a big funding advantage, an opponent wounded by scandal, and with national party figures such as Vice President Joe Biden stumping for their nominee, then Democrats must start having doubts about finding the 17 seats they need to take back control of the House next year.
"This was a long-shot race for Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who performed very well in a district that often isn't even contested by her party," observed Mark Kennedy, former Minnesota Republican congressman and now head of George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management.
Given the unbroken 33-year history of the 1st Congressional District sending a Republican to the House and the margin of her defeat, it is unlikely that Colbert Busch, sister of late-night TV satirist Stephen Colbert, would run against Sanford again next year.
However, with all the exposure she received in this much-watched contest, the Clemson University official could easily become her party's nominee in 2014 against either Graham or Scott — who faces a special election for the remainder of the term of former Sen. Jim DeMint — or seek another statewide office.
But for all the speculation about the future of Colbert Busch, May 7 clearly belonged to Mark Sanford — as did Bill Clinton's old title of "comeback kid."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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