He wasn't that bad.
Voters in South Carolina's First Congressional District decided as much in returning Mark Sanford to public life, four years after then-governor became a became a punchline on late-night TV over his clandestine trip to Argentina to visit his mistress.
The Republican candidate defeated Democratic rival Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a political neophyte and sister of comedian of Stephen Colbert, to claim the open Charleston-area House seat. Sanford represented much of the same coastal South Carolina territory in the House from 1995 to 2001.
The 1st District - open because Rep. Tim Scott (R) was appointed to the Senate - is solidly Republican and should have been an easy GOP hold. Mitt Romney carried the district by 18 percentage points in the 2012 presidential election.
But Sanford was on the ballot for the first time since he admitted in 2009 that he had an extramarital affair with Maria Belen Chapur, now his fiancee. His excuse that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail - when he was actually in Argentina visiting his mistress - became the stuff of political lore.
More recently, it emerged that Sanford had trespassed in his ex-wife Jenny's house in order to watch the Super Bowl with one of his four sons.
"I absolutely failed. Period," Sanford said in an interview on CNN, one of several he had on Election Day. Earlier, he told MSNBC that "one event does not define your life."
Still, Sanford campaigned in the final weeks without the financial or logistical help from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which withdrew after the trespassing charge became public. Sanford stressed Colbert Busch has received help from labor unions and Democratic groups from outside the district, and tied her to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
While much of the media focus has been on Sanford's comeback bid, Colbert Busch was chided for running a lackluster campaign. Tweeted RedState's Nathan Wurtzel (@NathanWurtzel), "This proves if you have a famous brother and run an issueless campaign in a difficult district, you probably won't win."
And since the House Republican campaign arm dropped its support of Sanford in recent weeks, he owes the GOP leadership precisely nothing. Sanford was already an independent operator during his first stint in Congress, and he could prove a political thorn in the side of Republican leaders as they seek to hold the majority in 2014.
The last time he served in Congress he was unafraid to challenge leadership over federal spending sprees and other issues. And that was before the Twitter/Facebook era, in which he can amplify he message even more.
While in Congress, Sanford was cited as its most fiscally conservative member by the libertarian Cato Institute. He was also recognized by Citizens Against Government Waste, as well as the National Tax Payers Union, for his efforts to rein in government spending and reduce the national deficit.
In 2000 Sanford bucked Republican orthodoxy by advocating an end to the travel ban and trade embargo with Cuba. He criticized leadership tactics in handling the votes on then-Speaker Newt Gingrich's ethics problems. He strongly advocated term limits and made a point of sleeping in his office and returning to Charleston as often as possible.
Newly-minted Rep. Mark Sanford will be in good company with several of the House's rambunctious tea party-fueled GOP members, like Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (Kan.). They were among several junior House Republican members recently booted from committee assignments after criticizing House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders for not pushing enough spending cuts.
Then there's the whole social issue thing. For years Republicans have portrayed themselves as being more in touch with average Americans than their libertine, permissive Democratic rivals. But with an admitted adulterer serving in the House that message gets complicated, to say the least.Minutes after the race was called the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement, "Republicans now have to defend him and stand with him until election day" in 2014.