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Mark Sanford and the 5 greatest comebacks in U.S. political history

Bruce Smith / AP

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, with his fiancee Maria Belen Chapur, right, addresses supporters in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on April 2, after winning the GOP nomination for the U.S. House seat he once held.

As political comebacks go, Mark Sanford's could be pretty epic.

Nearly four years after a vanishing act that led to revelations of an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman, the former South Carolina governor has won the GOP nomination for a House seat he once occupied.

And during his victory speech, his former mistress — now his fiancee — stood smiling at his side.

If he achieves his quest for redemption by defeating Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Sanford will join a string of politicians who have bounced back from disgrace or disaster for impressive second acts:

Richard Nixon

He was the king of the comeback.

Nixon was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1952 when allegations he profited from a political slush fund threatened to get him tossed from the ticket. He took to the airwaves to clear his name, making an emotional defense in which he talked about his family finances and talked about his kids' dog, Checkers.

AP file

President Richard Nixon

The speech was a massive success, and he survived the tempest to become President Eisenhower's No. 2. But after eight years as veep, Nixon was defeated by John F. Kennedy in a squeaker of a presidential election and then couldn't get elected governor of his home state.

"You won't have Nixon to kick around any more," he bitterly declared.

Wrong. Nixon, of course, made a second big rebound, defeating George McGovern in 1972 to become the nation's 37th president. After resigning in disgrace, Nixon slowly refashioned himself as an elder statesman and foreign policy expert but never fully escaped the shame of Watergate.

Marion Barry

Charles Dharapak / AP file

Former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry

The onetime activist and hostage-siege survivor served three terms as mayor of Washington, D.C., but was dogged by corruption scandals and finally undone by a 1990 sting operation that caught him on tape smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room with an informant.

A national punchline, he didn't run for a fourth term as mayor, but he did make a bid for a city council seat, losing to an elderly woman soon after being sentenced to six month in federal prison. And just two months after his release, he began pursuing a political resurrection — with surprising success.

He was elected to the City Council and served as mayor again from 1995 to 1999. In 2004, after a stint as a consultant, he ran for the Council again and won. In recent years, he's faced a tax lien, a a stalking arrest and rebukes by his colleagues, but he remains in office.

John Quincy Adams

Library of Congress via Reuters

President John Quincy Adams

He won the White House in 1824 by a one-vote margin in the House of Representatives, which was called on to pick the next commander-in-chief after Andrew Jackson received the most popular votes but fell short of the electoral college threshold.

Adams' father had managed only one term as president, and the son wouldn't do any better. Four years later, a mud-slinging Jackson drubbed him out of office in a landslide, amid accusations that Adams was a pimp and his wife was an adulteress.

But the sixth POTUS was not the retiring type. Just two years later, he ran for Congress, won and served nine distinguished terms. He died in office, after suffering a stroke on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Jerry Brown

His two terms as governor of California in the '70s and '80s were eclipsed by his failures: three unsuccessful presidential bids and two dead-end Senate campaigns.

Nick Ut / AP

California Gov. Jerry Brown

He was written off by some as a flake — "Governor Moonbeam," they called him, after a nickname given him by girlfriend Linda Ronstadt — who traveled the globe searching for spiritual fulfillment.

After six years of self-exile, Brown began working his way back from a political no-man's land. As a two-term mayor, he tried to revitalize the gritty city of Oakland, then served two years as state attorney general before he replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor in 2011.

He's gotten high marks and during his state of the state address in January he declared, "California is back." Looks like Jerry Brown is, too.

Bill Clinton

Monica who?

Clinton was originally dubbed the Comeback Kid after he finished second in the 1992 New Hampshire primary despite accusations of infidelity and draft dodging — but his real rehabilitation wouldn't come until after he was president.

Seth Wenig / AP

President Bill Clinton

The 1998 scandal over his sexual liaisons with White House intern Monica Lewinsky threatened to drive him from the Oval Office; he became the second president in history to be impeached.

Yet despite all the jokes about thongs and cigars, Clinton ended his term with his highest-ever approval rating — above 65 percent — and remains a hugely popular figure.

He created a global charitable foundation and helped free two Americans held in North Korea. His nomination speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention stole the show and while his days as an elected official are over, he could end up back in the White House one day.

Related:

Sanford nomination gives Democrats hope in special election

Alex Wagner and the NOW panel look at former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's political comeback and his chances for defeating Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the District 1 congressional race.