Trespassing and Mark Sanford's Chances

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As Eric Robinson reported on the main site, the GOP is bailing on Mark Sanford:

“On April 17, the National Republican Congressional Committee decided to stop funding the campaign of former Governor Mark Sanford, who is currently running against Elizabeth Colbert Busch for a congressional seat in South Carolina. The move comes after the release of court files that reveal Mark Sanford trespassed on his ex-wife’s property.”

The news is damaging and with it comes a new Public Policy Poll showing Sanford’s Democratic opponent leading him 50-41. Although a PAC associated with John McCain has donated $2500 – a paltry amount – Sanford has been almost completely abandoned by the GOP.

So, is Mark Sanford toast?

South Carolina is indeed in the South, but it should not be assumed that that automatically makes either the state or the first district the epitome of religious right social conservatism. We are, after all, talking about the state whose presidential primary just last year went to Newt Gingrich, whose extramarital activities are a lot more . . . colorful than Sanford’s.

We are also talking about something that is not remarkably new to the dynamics of the race or Sanford’s history.

It’s not a secret that Sanford is divorced. What happened on Jenny Sanford’s property pertains to the divorce settlement that was the result of the affair itself. Are we to think that the voters of the first district forgot Sanford was divorced?

The revelation of his affair in 2009 didn’t end Sanford’s governorship and neither did it sink him against a crowded field of Republican contenders – many of whom tried to make it a referendum on adultery. As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza pointed out at the time, Sanford made it a referendum on forgiveness and won. Today Cillizza is all but declaring the campaign over because Sanford took out a 1200 word newspaper ad explaining and rehashing the event.

The incident at Jenny Sanford’s house is obviously troubling for the Sanford campaign. Over at National Review Online, Betsy Woodruff reports from anonymous GOP operatives that it was the appearance of Sanford’s fiancee on the night of his primary victory that led her to leak this to the press:

“‘This trespassing story would not be out there if Jenny had not been embarrassed on election night. I believe that.’

“A former executive director of the South Carolina GOP, who also asked not to be named, echoed that sentiment. ‘I guaran-damn-tee you she did that,’ he says, referring to the release of the court documents. ‘I’m convinced of it. And I don’t blame her.'”

The whole trespassing incident has also shown that much of politics is about the personal.

The former governor is probably dealing with this as he should in the direct aftermath of its revelation.

He can’t pretend it didn’t happen. His campaign team can’t be excited that they may need to trot out the forgiveness motif again, but they can try to put a human face on difficult divorce settlements and custody battles. The sooner Sanford gets back to talking about the economy, jobs, and inexperience of his opponent, the better his chances on Election Day. But first, he has to make a personal appeal – and he’s doing that.

This is a special election, so it’s all about voter turn-out. That was true before news of the trespassing charges and it’s true now. Turn-out for Sanford was much higher than for Colbert Busch on the night of the first round of voting. So, it’s just a matter of how many Republicans are unmotivated to give Sanford yet another chance.

Sanford is a formidable opponent and this isn’t the first time people have written the early edition of his political obituary. There are still two weeks before voting on May 7, and while Mark Sanford’s chances are in flux at the moment, there is still at least one more chapter to be written.