By Catalina Camia, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Disgraced ex-South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won his bid for redemption on Tuesday night, defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch for his old seat in Congress.
Sanford, a Republican who admitted an extramarital affair in 2009, was ready to quit politics for good if he was not victorious in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. He will replace Republican Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate.
The former governor -- once a rising GOP star considered presidential material -- was an early favorite in the Republican district, which Mitt Romney carried by 18 percentage points in the 2012 election. But the revelation that his ex-wife, Jenny, accused Sanford of trespassing at her home caused the National Republican Congressional Committee to withdraw its financial and logistical support.
Sanford must appear in Charleston County Family Court on Thursday on his ex-wife's complaint.
Colbert Busch, a businesswoman and sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, stayed competitive in the race and was leading a final Public Policy Polling survey two days before the special election. She expressed confidence earlier in the day that she could win a seat that had stayed Republican for 30 years.
It was the first time Sanford was on the ballot since his admission in 2009 that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail - when he was actually in Argentina visiting his mistress - became a punch line on late-night TV.
"I absolutely failed. Period," Sanford said in an interview earlier Tuesday on CNN, one of several he gave on Election Day. He told MSNBC that "one event does not define your life."
Sanford urged his friends and neighbors to help him spread the word about his ideas to curb the nation's debt and to send a message about his Democratic rival. He stressed that Colbert Busch received help from labor unions and Democratic groups from outside the district, and tied her to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the House GOP campaign committee, congratulated Sanford and made no mention of how they had parted ways. "These results demonstrate just how devastating the policies of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are for House Democrats in 2014," he said in a statement. "At the end of the day, running on the Obama-Pelosi ticket was just too toxic for Elizabeth Colbert Busch."
Colbert Busch primarily focused on her plans to create jobs. She is the business development officer at Clemson University's Restoration Institute and has worked in the shipping industry.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, congratulated Colbert Busch's efforts and used her as an example of how the party will stay aggressive in the 2014 elections. Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to win majority control in the House. Sanford's election does not change that equation.
"The fact that the Democrat made this competitive is a testament to the strength of Elizabeth Colbert Busch as a candidate and the Republican habit of nominating flawed candidates," Israel said. "Democrats will be aggressive and drive deep into Republican-held territory this cycle to find districts with flawed candidates where we can compete."