Sanford reflects on past, preps for 1st Congressional District run

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Sanford reflects on past, preps for 1st Congressional District run

By GINA SMITH
gsmith@islandpacket.com
Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013   |  1082 Words  |  

Former Gov. Mark Sanford, who announced Wednesday he's running for the vacant 1st Congressional District seat, has something to say about ex-wife Jenny Sanford and fiancee Maria Belen Chapur.

But he was mostly mum about Nikki Haley, whom he helped catapult to the governor's office in 2010 by rounding up money and supporters.

"I'm not about to grade other people on their report card," Sanford said, when asked about Haley. "I'm about to get my own report card."

Sanford said he plans to marry Chapur, the Argentinean woman with whom he had an extramarital affair. However, he isn't giving up any wedding details.

Discovery of Sanford's secret, 2009 trip to visit Chapur in Argentina destroyed his marriage and ended talk of him as a presidential contender in 2012.

"All I'm going to say is I love her, I'm engaged to her and I'm going to marry her," Sanford said Monday.

The former governor has not only reappeared on the political scene this week; he is on Twitter, re-tweeting supporters' comments.

He stopped short of saying his ex-wife is in favor of his run, but he said she is not opposing it. Jenny Sanford is credited with helping craft and run his previous successful campaigns. Some had hoped she would run for Congress, but she has said she will not.

Sanford said when he began considering a run for the congressional seat he held from 1995 to 2001, his first stop was to his ex-wife's Sullivan's Island home.

"It's the first visit I made. I said, 'If you have any interest in doing this, I won't,' " he said. "When she said she wasn't, I continued this process."

As to his affair that gained national attention, he said:

"I failed in that chapter of my life. I spent a year of my life apologizing. At some point, you have to get up and say, 'I am a flawed human being, but I feel I can make a difference based on a 20-year track record.' ... The reality of the human experience is, we're all going to fail at something."

SOME FORGIVE, SOME DON'T

The 1st Congressional District includes a portion of Beaufort County, where it is unclear whether voters will look past Sanford's personal failings, according to county Republican Party chairman Jerry Hallman.

"I told (Sanford) I think a lot of people are forgiving, but I think there are a lot of people who aren't forgiving," said Hallman, whom Sanford phoned when he was contemplating a comeback. "I've talked to some of both. Some look forward to Mark coming back. Others have told me just the opposite."

Some voters still feel betrayed by Sanford, whose family has owned a farm in Beaufort County for years. Sanford retreated to the family property after his fall from grace but now lives in Charleston.

"There were people who were crushed when this happened, because he was definitely a favorite son," Hallman said.

S.C. politicos speculate he'll face his biggest challenge with female Republican voters. Many of them still have not forgiven his affair and have made Jenny Sanford one of the state's most popular political figures and her memoir a bestseller.

Karen Floyd, the first woman elected to lead the S.C. Republican Party, now publishes a digital magazine for conservative Republican women. She is not convinced a gender divide will emerge.

"I think that rather than the gender divide, it will come down to whether people identify as a social or fiscal conservative. Social conservatives are going to have a hard time voting for him but maybe not the fiscal ones."

Plus everyone loves a comeback story, she added.

"Voters like the underdog. There's something about someone who has fallen and rises again."

READY TO FIGHT SPENDING

Sanford would much rather talk about his track record and bid for Congress than his personal life.

He said he'll impose term limits on himself -- although he has yet to decide how many terms he would serve if elected.

The three-term congressman left Congress in 2001, following a self-prescribed term limit. He then ran for governor and served for two terms, the maximum allowed.

Sanford said Wednesday he still is not interested in being a "career politician," which he defined as one who casts votes to benefit himself instead of constituents. He points to several examples in which he took unpopular stances, including rejecting federal stimulus money in 2009 for the state's schools. A majority of state lawmakers disagreed with him, and teachers protested. The state Supreme Court overturned his veto.

"It wasn't in my political best interest, but I thought it was what was best in our efforts to limit state government," he said.

He had high praise for the Republican members of the state's congressional delegation, especially U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a York County Republican, who unsuccessfully proposed this week to cut $20.4 billion in federal spending to offset Hurricane Sandy relief.

"To me, that's a fairly sensible thought," Sanford said. "You can't spend more than you take in."

Sanford said he will be a voice for similar common-sense conservative ideas -- ones that Beaufort County retirees care about -- such as capping government spending, reducing debt and ensuring Social Security and Medicare survive.

"Our country's future is at stake if we don't get our hands around runaway government spending in Washington," he said. "And given our nation's long-term financial problems, we need more who have shown themselves to be leaders in standing up to the big spenders, regardless of party."

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