CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford can't seem to escape attacks on the extramarital affair that derailed his political career, which he hopes to revive in a special congressional election that is now a week away.
For months, his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, refused to criticize Sanford's affair — which was uncovered during his term as governor when he visited his then-mistress in Argentina under the guise of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford seldom found himself on the defensive this spring, instead focusing on a message of redemption and seeking voters' forgiveness.
But Colbert Busch in recent days has been airing an ad blasting him for lying to the people of the state, and she criticized him during a debate at The Citadel on Monday for using taxpayer funds to "leave the country for a personal purpose." Sanford didn't respond.
On Tuesday, Colbert Busch, the sister of political satirist Stephen Colbert, stood by the criticism.
"We're just talking about the facts. We're just talking about the differences between the two," Colbert Busch said when asked about the change in strategy after speaking to an AACP group in Goose Creek. "We're talking about policy and we're talking about how differently we would lead."
The attacks came even as Sanford, a Republican, picked up the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite who is considering a presidential run.
A new television ad from the House Majority PAC that went up Tuesday tells voters not to cast their ballots for Sanford, a man the Democratic super PAC says has values that are not those of Republicans. And a billboard on an interstate near Columbia — outside the 1st Congressional District where Sanford is running — uses Sanford's photo to advertise a website where people can meet partners for extramarital affairs.
Colbert Busch's campaign ad says she worked to provide trained workers for the Boeing plant in North Charleston and that Sanford knew it. The ad came after an earlier Sanford ad questioned her claim she "worked with Boeing."
"It's the same Mark Sanford who used tax dollars to visit his mistress in Argentina," the Colbert Busch ad says. "He disappeared for a week leaving no one in charge. He betrayed all who trusted in him and then lied to cover it up."
Before leaving office, Sanford avoided impeachment but was censured by the Legislature over state travel expenses he used for the affair. He also paid the largest ethics fine ever in South Carolina, $70,000.
Sanford did not respond directly to the new attacks or the billboard.
The ad from the House Majority PAC shows a woman who claims she is a lifelong Republican saying she could not vote for Sanford.
"I used to be for Mark Sanford but not anymore. He skipped town to be with his mistress on Father's Day. Sanford even asked his wife for permission to have the affair and wasted our taxpayer dollars on himself. I'm a Republican, but Mark Sanford just does not share our values," says the woman, Jennifer Stark of Mount Pleasant.
Sanford and his wife Jenny have divorced, and the ex-governor is now engaged to his former mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, who even appeared at his victory speech after the GOP primary runoff.
In April, Jenny Sanford accused him in a court complaint of repeatedly trespassing in her home. The revelation prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to pull its support from Sanford's campaign. Sanford has said he went there because he didn't want his 14-year-old son to have to watch the Super Bowl alone.
Even with the attacks heating up, Sanford has some advantages going into the campaign's final week. He held the same congressional seat in coastal South Carolina for three terms in the 1990s before serving two terms as governor. On the campaign trail, he has touted his conservative credentials as a budget-cutter.
"Unless we get our fiscal house in order in Washington," he told a chamber of commerce group Tuesday, "there will be profound consequences for the American way of life."
Paul, a Kentucky Republican, praised those credentials Tuesday in issuing his endorsement, saying Sanford is an advocate for limited government and cutting spending.
"Mark has proven during his time in office that watching out for the taxpayers and holding the line on spending are his top priorities," Paul said.
"I think in looking at my own record there's been a consistent theme of looking out for the taxpayers and the bottom line," Sanford said in thanking Paul for the endorsement. "Unfortunately, with respect to my opponent, it simply isn't believable she would be an independent voice given who has been funding her campaign."
Sanford has tried to put the focus on Colbert Busch, asserting that political out-of-state interests are funding her campaign. She has said she would be an independent voice answerable only to the people of the district.
On Wednesday, Sanford gets a boost from his successor, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. She will make her first campaign appearance on behalf of her former mentor at a Sanford fundraiser at a home on the city's famous Battery.
"Nikki believes it is critical that South Carolina speak with as much unity as possible on key federal issues facing our state, such as labor union powers, Obamacare, and deficit spending," said spokesman Tim Pearson. "Mark Sanford is clearly the candidate who will stand with our Congressional delegation in fighting Washington's overreach."
Colbert Busch, Sanford and Green Party candidate Eugene Platt are on the ballot in the May 7 special election. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Republican Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate.