Call it a well-executed political comeback, or the willingness of voters to forgive if asked, or just straight-up party loyalty in a very Republican district. Or, probably, all three.
Either way, former Gov. Mark Sanford on Tuesday defeated Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the special election for South Carolina's 1st congressional district. Sanford won the open congressional seat in fairly convincing fashion, earning the right to represent this coastal district in the House and keeping the seat in the GOP column.
This was a race about personalities - it should not be read as an indicator of 2014 or a test case of any national issue, the way some other special elections are often (rightly or wrongly) interpreted. This one was all about Sanford and Colbert Busch, , and Sanford won it 54-45 (with 98 percent in).
It might have seemed an unlikely outcome when Sanford, whose term as governor was marred by scandal and an extramarital affair that made national headlines, started out. But he rallied enough Republicans in this conservative district (which cast nearly six in 10 votes for Mitt Romney in 2012) to turn out, and hold back a strong challenge from Colbert Busch. Along the way he directly asked forgiveness for that past and tackled his issues head-on, apparently winning over enough voters along the way. He campaigned as a staunch conservative whose stances better fit the district and looked to "nationalize" the race and capitalize on the Democrats' inherent unpopularity here, trying to tie his opponent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democrats in the House. In the end, that appears to have worked, as voters here seemed willing to give Sanford a shot rather than add to that Democratic minority.
Sanford made the vote gains where he needed to: he did well enough in the wealthier Republican areas and fast-growing Beaufort county, getting 53 percent there and getting decent relative turnout, with the area casting a slightly larger share of the vote than might be expected, as of this writing, and was up in every county with more votes still to come in. He did as well as needed to in Republican Dorchester, and was about even in Charleston with most of the county's precincts in, and that alone spelled victory for him.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch's bid for an upset rested on touting her business credentials and running as a moderate, along with a well-funded (helped by fundraisers from her famous comedian brother, Stephen Colbert) campaign and some national backing. By many accounts, she'd held her own in their only debate and raised questions about Sanford's past dealings. But to win, she needed to maximize turnout among the Democrats who are in the area - they are more concentrated toward Charleston, which also has a substantial number of African-American voters - and then look to capitalize on the unpredictability of special election turnout, hoping that many Republicans would stay home, perhaps with misgivings about Sanford. That didn't materialize. Turnout looks to have been about 25 percent and 140,000 votes cast.