Mark Sanford's Primary Win Demonstrates Power of Forgiveness After Scandal

He's not in office yet, but former Gov. Sanford is making a comeback.

ByABC News
April 3, 2013, 5:53 PM

April 4, 2013 — -- Mark Sanford's triumphant return to politics with his victory in a Republican primary for his former South Carolina House seat at least partly demonstrates the power of redemption among voters for candidates who slip badly but come clean and seek forgiveness.

Yes, Sanford hasn't won yet. He will take on Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a general election next month. But he was able to beat out his primary opponents to get to a position where his comeback is even possible.

In June 2009, when he gave a teary, rambling press conference and admitted he was not hiking the Appalachian Trail, as he'd claimed, but actually was visiting his mistress in Argentina. He apologized and later told his constituents and the world the woman, Argentine journalist Maria Belen Chapur, was his soul mate.

"I've spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina. I am committed to trying to get my heart right," Sanford said at the time.

Who would have thought that man could have such a comeback -- and with his mistress, now fiancee, by his side no less? Chapur stood next to Sanford when he at his victory party. She didn't address the crowd, but he thanked her for her "long suffering" while he was on the campaign trail.

READ MORE: Other Politicians That Have Bounced Back From Scandal

Sanford is from the conservative state of South Carolina and a district that hasn't elected a Democrat since 1981. But that conservatism also holds a way back for the fallen. Hogan Gidley, a former South Carolina state party director, said it does because the electorate is not just conservative, but religious.

"It's also evangelical," Gidley said. "As evangelicals, we believe in Christ and we believe in forgiveness. ... We are conservative, sure we are, but it lends to faster forgiveness because that's what the Bible says."

He also noted that in the state's January 2012 presidential primary, South Carolina Republicans voted for Gingrich, despite his own marital infidelity scandal that led to his own time in the political wilderness.

However, Gidley added that doesn't mean he's a shoo-in, stressing that "people should be able to separate forgiving the man and recognizing that he is unfit to hold office."

Gidley mentioned Sanford's television ads where he apologized as being effective. In his first one he said, "I have experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it."