Mark Sanford is headed back to Congress after trouncing Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch with 54 percent of the votes, a 9 percentage point victory that dashed predictions of a close race.
The big victory Tuesday suggests First Congressional District voters cared more about a consistent voice for limited government and no new spending than transgressions that seemed certain to torpedo Sanford's political career four years ago.
Charleston businesswoman Colbert Busch received 45 percent of the vote while Green Party candidate Eugene Platt took less than 1 percent.
The former governor and congressman took all five counties that comprise the district. In Beaufort County, Sanford won nearly 53 percent to Colbert Busch's nearly 47 percent.
"I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances," Sanford said in his victory speech in Charleston, referring to his first TV ad in which he asked voters to support him despite his past problems. "But a God of third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth chances because that is the reality of our shared humanity."
On the campaign trail, Sanford successfully touted his work to cut government spending and his votes against projects he deemed worthy, if he disagreed with the way they were to be funded, as proof that he had never let taxpayers down. Meanwhile, he successfully jabbed Colbert Busch, casting her as a wishywashy ally of unions, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other national Democrats who would follow their agenda.
Colbert Busch touted her business experience and cast Sanford as an untrustworthy politician who had voted against important economic development projects, including the expansion of the Charleston port.
"My only pledge was to the people of the First District, and I respect your decision," Colbert Busch said in brief remarks Tuesday.
Many voters said it was Sanford's record of looking out for taxpayers while he was in Congress for three terms and governor for two terms that convinced them to support the Charleston Republican.
"He's not perfect by any means," said voter Paul Good of Bluffton. "But he's been in office before and he did a good job for South Carolina."
The personal issues, he said, were ultimately personal and did not factor into his decision-making.
"Otherwise, we get a Democrat, and every time Democrats get in office, they won't quit spending and they won't stop with the entitlements," Good said.
Roberta Harris of Sun City said Sanford's efforts to connect Colbert Busch with Pelosi and other national Democrats who have contributed generously to her campaign proved effective.
"There's something about when they brought up the name Nancy Pelosi," Harris said. "We don't need more of that kind of thinking here."
And trespassing allegations made by Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, seemed to backfire with some voters.
"When I heard about that, I thought, 'These people are grasping at straws.' That turned me off," Harris said.
Mark Sanford is due in Family Court Thursday to answer allegations that he entered his ex-wife's home, violating their divorce agreement. Jenny Sanford has said it is a pattern of repeated behavior. Mark Sanford has said he was watching the second half of the Super Bowl with the couple's youngest son.
The campaign generated high interest, especially in Beaufort County where 33 percent of voters turned out, exceeding the typical 10 to 12 percent turnout for special elections, said Scott Marshall, the county's top election official.
A similarly high turnout of 34 percent was seen in Charleston County.
The two counties comprise the largest percent of voters in the district.
Still, a substantial number of Colbert Busch supporters in Beaufort County said in interviews Tuesday they were voting against Sanford more than supporting Colbert Busch because they were disgusted with Sanford's personal life.
"I'm voting more in protest of him than anything else," said Bob Malito of Sun City, who cast a vote for Colbert Busch. "If someone loses the trust of the people by what they've done -- and he has done that by behavior that makes him irredeemable for public office -- then we must vote in a way that reflects that."
John Johns of Bluffton didn't want to vote for Sanford but didn't want to support Colbert Busch either. At the last minute, he cast his ballot for Green Party candidate Eugene Platt.
"I didn't feel like I had another choice," he said.