Disgraced former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s comeback bid takes a big step this week, when Palmetto State voters will decide if he deserves another shot in office.
The Republican, who quietly left office two years ago after a bizarre high-profile extramarital affair in 2009, is on Tuesday’s ballot for a special-election primary to fill the House seat vacated by Tim Scott’s December appointment to the Senate.
He’s not alone, as a whopping 15 other Republicans also are running for the state’s First Congressional District seat. His most formidable opponents are a collection of state legislators, including Sen. Larry Grooms and Rep. Chip Limehouse. Teddy Turner — son of CNN creator Ted Turner — also is in the mix.
But The State newspaper in Columbia reported last week that internal polling by several campaigns showed Sanford has captured about one-third of likely GOP voters, making him the front-runner.
Mr. Sanford, while stumping in the coastal South Carolina district he represented before serving as governor from 2003 to 2011, told National Public Radio that “there’s an amazing reservoir of human grace out there that I didn’t understand or fully comprehend until now.”
“People will give you a second chance,” he added. “Then at some point you have to forgive yourself as well, and you have to stand back up and try and make a contribution wherever you can.”
Mr. Sanford once was a rising star in the Republican Party who was whispered as a possible 2012 presidential candidate. But his reputation and career unraveled after he went AWOL for several days in 2009.
He initially told his staff that he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but instead secretly flew to Buenos Aires to visit his Argentine mistress — a woman who now is his fiancee. When the truth quickly became public, he was ridiculed nationally. His wife soon filed for divorce and published a memoir describing the embarrassing ordeal.
Yet he refused to resign despite heavy pressure to do so, and lain low after finishing his term in January 2011.
On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of TV political satirist Stephen Colbert, is the early favorite to win her primary and presents a potentially competitive general election contest in a district Republicans typically dominate.
A two-candidate runoff will be held April 2 if no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in either primary.