Hooray: South Carolina Republicans About to Nominate Mark Sanford for Congress

Posted: Apr 01, 2013 3:45 PM

Just to jog your memory a bit, Mark Sanford is the former South Carolina governor who resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and was censured by his state legislature in the aftermath of a bizarre 2009 sex scandal.  Yep, he was the guy whose staff claimed was off "hiking the Appalachian Trail" when he mysteriously disappeared for nearly a week in June of that year -- when, in fact, he was visiting his journalist mistress (now-fiancee) in Buenos Aires.  WaPo's Jennifer Rubin reminds us of another fun fact about the imbroglio:

He’d like to characterize his misdeeds as “personal,” but they were anything but. As you may recall, Sanford used public funds for a tryst. This is a small-government conservative careful with the taxpayers’ money? Moreover, he doubled down on his misbehavior, insisting for some time that he had used his own funds. Eventually, he was forced to repay $9,000.  

Part of that tab included charging taxpayers for expensive business and first class tickets on his "official" visits to South America.  So a self-stylized protector of the American taxpayer and social conservative was forced to reimburse the state treasury for expenses associated with an overseas extramarital affair.  But that's old news.  Sanford has undertaken a political rehabilitation project and is running for a second stint in Congress.  Astonishingly, he reportedly asked his wronged ex-wife to run his special election campaign to fill the seat of now-Senator Tim Scott.  She declined.  Undeterred, Sanford has been telling South Carolinians how very, very sorry he is about everything, and that they really ought to make peace with him by sending him back to Washington.  Here he is hinting at prior "mistakes" in a recent ad:


This strategy seems to be working...so far.  Sanford emerged as the front-runner in last month's 16-way GOP primary, and is expected to prevail in tomorrow's run-off election.  If he does, Sanford will face a well-funded Democratic opponent, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert:  

Voters here have heard all the reasons to keep former Gov. Mark Sanford retired from politics. He’s damaged goods. He risks handing a safe Republican congressional seat to the sister of liberal comedian Stephen Colbert. The 1st Congressional District needs a conservative who lives the talk instead of issuing apologies. Yet, Sanford appears to be on the cusp of clinching the Republican nomination Tuesday for the right to take on Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a May 7 special election that’s sure to become a national spectacle. 

Early polling suggests that Sanford may be uniquely qualified to lose the heavily-Republican district in May.  His campaign to secure the GOP nomination has kept things classy, too:

Forced on the defensive, Sanford tried to argue that Bostic hasn’t come clean about some of his own weaknesses, such as missed votes on the county council. But Bostic hit back, saying he took time off to care for his wife during her bout with cancer. And he managed to throw in a veiled barb at Sanford going AWOL from the governor’s office — he infamously claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail — to visit his mistress. “My absence is because I was home taking care of her largely — doing what I should have been,” Bostic said. “People knew where I was. I did my job just the same.” Outside the debate hall, some Sanford advisers seemed shaken, pointing out that Bostic had said he wouldn’t raise the former governor’s personal troubles during the campaign.  

Oh, spare us.  Sanford's advisers were "shaken" that a political opponent landed a glancing blow over their man's infamous 2009 adulterous disappearing act?  Please. If they think Democrats will go the "honorable" route in a general, they're dreaming.  Does Sanford even have standing to demand honor?  I'm a big believer in redemption and grace.  Let he who is blameless cast the first stone.  But forgiveness need not entail a restoration to political power of a man who recently abused the people's trust.  Is there really no Republican better suited to represent the people of South Carolina's first Congressional District than Mark Sanford?  The people will render that verdict tomorrow. With the national Republican brand limping along, is there any scenario under which a Sanford nomination does not become a damaging side show?  Before you go, be sure to re-watch Sanford's freaky deaky press 2009 conference:

I suspect SC-1 voters will be reminded of that painfully awkward spectacle early and often if Sanford becomes the nominee.  Democrats may overplay their hand, and the redness of the district may pull him through, but the case against Sanford is sordid and strong. 

UPDATE - Jim Geraghty surveys the lay of the land in advance of tomorrow's run-off:

I've chatted with a couple of active Republican and tea-party activists down here. If Sanford is the nominee, a certain number of Republicans won't vote for him, citing the 2009 scandal and sense that Sanford embarrassed the state by traveling to Argentina and not telling anyone. (The affair is considered much less of an issue than his leaving the state under false pretenses.) Very few of those folks feel strongly enough about Sanford to vote for Elizabeth Colbert-Bush; they'll just stay home.  Of course, if Bostic is the nominee, a certain number of Republicans will stay home as well. No doubt, Bostic has two key bases of support, Evangelical Christians and home schoolers. As one Beaufort County resident put it to me, "I'm hearing folks saying, 'My preacher says I should vote for him.'" The problem is breaking beyond that base, and branching out support beyond the Charleston suburbs into Beaufort County, into the retiree-heavy precincts along Route 278 and on Hilton Head Island. Bostic's candidacy is pretty clearly built around his religious identity – he's described himself as a creationist – and that's not quite the brand of conservatism that traditionally sells in this district.

Geraghty also suggests that Colbert-Busch is only a contender because of the star power of her brother.  Careful, Jim.  War on women, and all that.

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