Mark Sanford Back in 1st?
By Paul Gable
The name of former Gov. Mark Sanford has been prominent in the last several days in connection with the S.C. 1st Congressional District seat vacated by the promotion of Rep. Tim Scott to senator.
This is only natural as Sanford once represented a former iteration of the 1st District for three terms in Congress before honoring a personal term limits pledge and stepping away from the seat. Two years after stepping down from Congress, Sanford was elected to his first of two terms as governor.
Sanford’s name is well known as is his strict conservative, libertarian political philosophy. As we have stated before, Sanford was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.
“I’m not sure the open 1st District seat is Sanford’s best option…”
Anyone who is even mildly interested in South Carolina politics knows the negatives – the messy outing, in 2009, of an affair with Argentinian Maria Belen-Chapur, to whom he is now engaged. The resulting divorce from former wife, Jenny; $70,000 in ethics fines; impeachment by the S.C. House, in what appeared to be a case of political payback, that did not result in removal from office by the S.C. Senate.
That Jenny Sanford’s name has also been mentioned as a possible candidate only heightens the imagination. Jenny’s name appeared on Gov. Nikki Haley’s short list of candidates to replace Sen. Jim DeMint before the nod went to Scott.
(Registrant: Donehue Direct)
In addition to being his wife, Jenny Sanford worked closely with Mark as campaign strategist and manager in his successful campaigns for Congress and Governor. There are some who credited at least part of Mark’s political success to Jenny.
But, that political resume does not make Jenny Sanford a viable candidate for elective office any more than a similar resume makes Karl Rove a viable candidate for President.
Can Mark Sanford win a special election for the 1st Congressional District seat? He brings name recognition and money in his campaign chest to a candidacy if he chooses to run.
(Registrant: Matt Moore)
But, the most important element in winning a special election is getting your base out to vote. And that brings up the question, what is his base?
The 1st Congressional District was much different when Sanford won elections in 1994, 1996 and 1998. Two census cycles have changed its makeup significantly.
Horry County went solidly for Sanford, putting him over the top in the primary runoff in 1994. Horry County is no longer in the district and a lot of its Mark Sanford supporters are now in the new 7th Congressional District.
His two wins in the 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial elections helped Sanford build a statewide base of support, much of which will also not help him at the polls in the current 1st District.
Of course, an open seat provides temptation – you don’t have to knock off an incumbent, something Sanford did in 2002 when he ousted Democrat Jim Hodges in the governor’s race.
However, Sanford may actually be better positioned to challenge Scott in 2014, when Scott must defend his appointment to the Senate in a special election. Scott has not proven he has statewide appeal in the voting booth. Sanford has.
Additionally, Sanford will have two more years to rehabilitate himself with voters as the messy events of 2009 and 2010 further fade into the mist.
Sanford is a great campaigner. He appeals to voters, he connects with voters. He talks their language.
I’m not sure the open 1st District seat is Sanford’s best option to re-enter the political wars. He has already won the Congressional election battle. I don’t see he has much to gain from fighting it again.