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Mark Sanford Re-emerges in Crowded S.C. House Race

Mark Sanford Re-emerges in Crowded S.C. House Race

By Scott Conroy - January 15, 2013

In a state known for its vibrant, controversy-soaked political culture, former Gov. Mark Sanford stands out as one of its most colorful characters. He had his eyes set on the White House before his path to the summit of national politics took a sharp detour along the "Appalachian Trail," in a scandal more befitting a daytime soap opera.

Now, 3½ years later, he’s set to re-enter the fray.

Sanford will announce officially on Wednesday his candidacy for the House of Representatives, a Sanford aide confirmed to RCP. He hopes to replace newly appointed Sen. Tim Scott in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.

Sanford previously held the seat from 1995 to 2001 before running for governor successfully in 2002.

During the third year of his second term in the governor’s mansion, his upward political trajectory veered sharply downward after he disappeared from public view for almost a week, telling his staff that he had gone hiking alone on the Appalachian Trail. In fact, he wasn’t on the trail, and he wasn’t alone: Sanford was caught by a reporter returning from a clandestine trip to Argentina with his mistress, to whom he later became engaged.

He ultimately was censured by the state legislature but served out his term, succeeded in 2011 by current Gov. Nikki Haley.

His ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, announced on Monday that she would not run for the 1st District seat -- a potential candidacy that she had been rumored to be considering.

The 2009 melodrama surrounding his affair with Maria Belen Chapur -- whom Sanford said was his “soul mate” -- is certain to be a major narrative surrounding his House campaign, despite his track record as a once-popular governor who had been regarded as a likely top-tier 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

“He’s going to have to answer the question about the infidelity and being out of state and not being forthcoming about where he was,” said South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis, Sanford’s former chief of staff and longtime friend, who is supporting his former boss in the special election. “It’s a legitimate question, and voters have the right to ask that question. I think voters will judge Mark based on his answer. It’s certainly going to come up, and it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Asked in an interview with The National Review on Wednesday what he would say to voters who were troubled by his actions, Sanford said that people needed to “look under the hood” and consider “a larger philosophical question.”

“In life, we’re all going to make mistakes -- we’re all going to come up short. The key is, how do you get back up, and how do you learn from those mistakes?” he said. “But I think that the bigger issue is, don’t judge any one person by their best day; don’t judge them by their worst day. Look at the totality, the whole of their life, and make judgments accordingly.”

Sanford told the National Review that he and Chapur are still engaged: “I’m going to marry her, it’s just that simple.”

The Republican primary for the special election in the coastal 1st District is set for March 19. If no candidate hits the 50 percent threshold, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters on April 2 will determine who will go on to the general election on May 7.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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