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Mark Sanford's Appalachian climb to political redemption reached its end Tuesday night, as the former governor, who left office amid an international sex scandal, won a special election to represent South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.

With roughly three-quarters of precincts reporting, Sanford held a double-digit lead over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. Though the final margin is likely to change, The Associated Press, CNN, and others had called the race in Sanford's favor by 8:30 pm.

For Sanford, it's an incredible comeback. In 2009, he admitted to having an affair with an Argentine woman. He was caught after he pretended to be on a hiking trip, when in fact he was cavorting in South America, giving the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" a whole new meaning.

Sanford's campaign disadvantages didn't end there. His ex-wife announced mid-campaign that she was suing him for trespassing on her property; national Republicans pulled all financial support for his campaign; and his opponent vastly outraised him, in part thanks to the star power of her famous brother, comedian Stephen Colbert.

Democrats once had high hopes of capturing the deep-red seat, vacated when Tim Scott (R) was appointed to fill a Senate opening. Sanford couldn't muster enough support to win a GOP primary outright — he emerged victorious in a two-way runoff — suggesting he would lack the solid party support necessary to win. And indeed, polls had shown Colbert-Busch in the lead or tied with Sanford heading into the home stretch.

In the end though, it wasn't enough to place the seat in Democratic hands for the first time in over 30 years.

Sanford will serve the remainder of Scott's term, meaning he'll be up for re-election in November 2014.