WASHINGTON -- Mark Sanford said his surprisingly strong victory in a special election Tuesday is a testament to South Carolina’s forgiving tradition, and he vowed to be a watchdog for taxpayers in his district when he returns to Congress.
Sanford, whose political career appeared over when he left the governor’s office in 2011 hobbled by the fallout of an extramarital affair, defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch by 9 percentage points in the 1st District race. The winning margin was wider than expected despite the region’s strong GOP tilt.
Sanford took a victory lap Wednesday with a round of morning TV interviews to explain the result.
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“I think we have a tradition in the South, and in South Carolina, of forgiveness,” he told “CBS This Morning.” “People do make mistakes. They do handle situations wrong. They do wish they had handled different things differently. But that whole notion of forgiving another person and saying, ‘OK, let's begin this process of building and moving forward,’ I think is part and parcel to this larger notion of human grace.”
Sanford will return to Washington -- he served in the House for three terms before he was elected governor -- owing little to a national Republican Party, which kept him at arms’ length during the campaign, particularly after his ex-wife filed a trespassing charge that brought fresh reminders of his messy divorce.
Sanford will appear in local court to deal with the complaint before coming to Washington to be sworn in.
“We won the primary without their help. We won a runoff without their help, and now we won a general without their deep involvement,” Sanford told CNN of the national GOP involvement. “That's fine. That's the nature of a campaign, which just ended yesterday. Now we move on to this process of governance.”
On NBC’s “Today” show, Sanford said voters were more interested in his record on fiscal issues than any personal failings.
“People care about how politics impacts their lives, and I think that I've got a rather proven record in terms of trying to do something ... particularly as it relates to financial issues,” he said.
He told Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” that the nation is at a “tipping point,” with a short window “to get this thing right.”
“So I want to go up to try and, not only represent this congressional district, but to impact the way that Washington spends money,” he said.
Polls earlier in the campaign had shown Colbert Busch, sister of Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert, leading or closely matched with Sanford. Beyond the support her famous sibling brought her both in fundraising and media attention, national Democrats made a strong play for the seat, which has been in GOP hands for decades.
But Sanford’s late effort to tie Colbert Busch to the national Democratic Party -- specifically House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose cardboard likeness he debated in the closing days -- may have provided the late boost he needed.
“It was actually one of those debates that I won,” Sanford joked on Fox.
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