Mark Sanford is living proof that life is full of second chances.
The former Republican governor of South Carolina, whose political career was left for dead along the Appalachian Trail after an extramarital affair, asked for, and Tuesday received, political redemption as he won a special election to fill a vacant House seat that he once occupied.
"I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances but third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth chances, because that is the reality of our shared humanity," Sanford said at his victory celebration after defeating his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch. "I am one imperfect man saved by God's grace."
And at a news conference minutes later, Sanford added that "I think we're always on the search for redemption and I think this is certainly a degree of political redemption."
Sanford, who won 54% to 45%, according to an unofficial vote count in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, made reference to his political baggage from his infamous affair.
"If it was just about market-based ideas and limited government, this campaign would have easily won a long time ago. But I had deficiencies that are well chronicled as a candidate and at the end of the day I was carried across the threshold, if you will, by an incredible team of volunteers."
Colbert Busch, an official with Clemson University's wind turbine drive testing facility who was best known nationally as the sister of satirist and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, said that, "The people have spoken and I respect their decision."
But she added that "We gave it a heck of fight" and assured supporters that "I will continue to fight for the people of South Carolina."
Sanford won all five counties in the district, including Charleston and Beaufort, home to Hilton Head, where some Democrats hoped that older voters would be turned off by Sanford's scandals and just stay home. In Charleston County, Sanford's home base but the Democrats' best hope as well, he narrowly edged out Colbert Busch.
Colbert Busch won absentee ballots, but it wasn't nearly enough to carry her to victory.
"Turnout was very large for a special election -- roughly a quarter of the 18-plus population voted, more than 140,000 votes total," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland, who analyzed the vote. "That seems to have helped Sanford. Low turnout would have meant a lot of Republicans who were reluctant to vote for him and wouldn't vote for a Democrat. High turnout turns that around: Plenty of Republicans who had misgivings about Sanford came out to vote anyway."
Sanford's oldest son Marshall and his now-fiancée Maria Belen Chapur were standing beside the candidate at his victory celebration.
Sanford was in his second term as governor in 2009 when he disappeared from public view for several days. At the time his staff claimed he'd been hiking the Appalachian Trail. He later admitted that he was actually in Argentina, seeing Chapur, with whom he was having an affair.
The episode sank any hopes Sanford had of making a bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Sanford and wife Jenny were divorced in 2010. He finished his second term as governor in January 2011, after being censured and fined tens of thousands of dollars for ethics violations, exiting to what many thought would be political obscurity.
But he came back, beating out 15 other candidates earlier this year to win the Republican nomination in the race for the vacant House seat. From the start, Sanford was very open about the affair on the campaign trail and made it the subject of his first TV ad.
And even with all his political baggage, he was considered the favorite in the race until last month, when court documents revealed his ex-wife had filed complaints against Sanford for trespassing on her property.
Sanford told CNN that he didn't want to leave his sons home alone while their mother was away. He's scheduled for a court appearance two days after the election.
Not long after the trespassing story broke, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced it was pulling out of the race and national Democratic groups announced they were throwing more money into the contest.
And National Democratic groups jumped in. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and independent pro-Democrat House Majority PAC combined dished out nearly $1 million to defeat Sanford.
The two groups, as well as Colbert Busch, highlighted the affair. At their only general election debate, Colbert Busch brought up Sanford's 2009 secret trip to Argentina to see his mistress.
"When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose," she said sternly, looking directly at her opponent on stage.
And her campaign went up with a TV commercial which slammed Sanford for using "tax dollars to visit his mistress in Argentina, disappeared for a week leaving no one in charge, betrayed all who trusted him, then lied to cover it up. Mark Sanford, it's a question of character."
The DCCC and House Majority PAC have also spotlighted the affair in their final ads.
"I used to be for Mark Sanford, but not any more. He skipped town to be with his mistress on Father's Day. Sanford even asked his wife for permission to have the affair," said Mt. Pleasant Republican voter Jennifer Stark in the House Majority PAC commercial.
But over the past month, another woman also entered the campaign spotlight: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.