With the elevation of Rep. Tim Scott to Jim DeMint’s vacant US Senate seat, South Carolina’s first congressional district, which former governor Mark Sanford represented from 1995-2001, is now open and Sanford is attempting a political comeback by running in the special election to replace Scott.
The current field has at least five declared candidates and several others mentioned with January 28 being the deadline to file. The GOP primary will be held March 19, a likely run-off on April 2, and the general election on May 7.
Sanford’s career before his infamous 2009 extramarital affair, where he mysteriously disappeared, led some to wonder if he would attempt a White House bid in 2012. A successful businessman, congressman, and governor, Sanford had a reputation as a stingy fiscal conservative and a strict constitutionalist in Congress with an independent streak that ran him afoul of party leaders in both Washington and Columbia.
In Congress, Sanford was one of only two Republicans who voted against the 1998 resolution to make regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States, a position he carried on by saying, “I don’t believe in preemptive war. . . . For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.”
While in Congress, Sanford aligned himself with now-retired Representative Ron Paul. Paul recalled encountering Sanford, when the South Carolinian noticed Paul often voted alone against popular measures he believed were unconstitutional and, before long, Sanford was casting lonely votes alongside Paul.
Sanford voted alone against a popular domestic violence measure in 2000 because “it would have doubled federal spending on programs and was using money from the Social Security trust fund.” Sanford was criticized for this in his first gubernatorial campaign in 2002, but as governor, Sanford signed legislation increasing the penalties for domestic violence.
In 2008, Governor Sanford publicly opposed the Real ID Act, an implementation many saw as a form of national identification. Seeing Real ID as a violation of the privacy of South Carolinians, Sanford said of the measure, “I am duty bound to comply with the laws of our state.”
As governor, Sanford vetoed over 600 bills, but over 80% were overridden by a predominantly Republican legislature. When Sanford took his stand against President Obama’s 2009 stimulus spending law, saying it was fiscally irresponsible, the state GOP demanded he accept it.
When other prominent GOP governors from Sarah Palin to Bobby Jindal eagerly accepted stimulus funds, Sanford gained national notoriety by steadfastly refusing to accept the same funds unless they were used to pay down the state’s debt. The South Carolina Supreme Court eventually ordered Sanford to accept the money. Sanford accepted another stimulus payment in 2010.
Although not a tea party Republican per se, Sanford spoke to cheers at the Charleston Tea Party on April 15, 2009, railing against bailouts for “big autos and big insurance and big banks and big state governments.” Channeling his congressional colleague, he went on to say of the Federal Reserve’s policies, “You can’t print that which you don’t have and if you do, you devalue its worth.”
Despite the public relations hit he endured because of his affair, Sanford left the governor’s office after two terms with an approval rating over 50%.
Entering the special election, Sanford is the biggest name to declare an intention to run. According to The Hill, he still has $120,000 in an old congressional campaign account from which he can draw funds for this race.
The first congressional district has been held by Republicans since 1981, and Scott won with over 60% last November. So, if he wins the primary and the likely run-off, Sanford will be in a strong position to return to the House of Representatives.
Much will be said about Sanford in the coming days and weeks rehashing his extramarital affair and the circumstances of his disappearance, but his career has been much more than one dalliance. As a fiscal conservative with an independent streak and unafraid to vote his conscience, even if he is alone, Mark Sanford stands out in the field.