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Mark Sanford’s 6.59 Percent Problem

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IS THE “LUV GOV” VULNERABLE?

By FITSNEWS  ||  After winning a grueling special election in 2013, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford won 93.4 percent of the vote this November to claim a full two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The former two-term South Carolina governor – who saw his 2012 presidential aspirations derailed by scandal – completed a remarkable political comeback last May, winning the special election for the congressional seat he held from 1995-2001.

Sanford scored another win when he drew neither primary nor general election opposition this November (not even a third-party challenge).  In other words he was a lock to head back to Washington, D.C. in January 2015.

Good news, right?

Eh … maybe not.  A closer look at Sanford’s 2014 win reveals a potential problem for the “Luv Gov” – and not just the ethical issues associated with his 2010 collaboration with former ally (now nemesis) Nikki Haley.

A total of 8,423 voters wrote in a name other than Sanford on their 2014 ballots this month – or 6.59 percent of the electorate.  This concentration of write-in votes was especially high in Charleston County, where nearly 10 percent of voters wrote in someone other than Sanford.  While write-in voting is typically higher in races where a major party candidate is running unopposed, Sanford’s write-in opposition dwarfed the percentages put up against unopposed GOP candidates at the statewide level – Treasurer Curtis Loftis (1.25 percent) and Adjutant General Bob Livingston (1.03 percent).

What gives?  Well, let’s start with the obvious …

Two months ago, Sanford reminded voters of why they don’t like him – a widely publicized personal implosion that highlighted his chronic narcissism and questionable mental health.  Not only that Sanford’s breakup with former fiancee Maria Belen Chapur – the woman he famously referred to as his “soul mate” when he was caught cheating with her in 2009 – also struck many as evidence of a diabolical degree of political calculation on his part.

Seriously … voters were willing to forgive Sanford for cheating on his wife so long as they believed it was for “true love.”  But when Chapur got kicked to the curb via a nauseatingly introspective 2,400-word Facebook post, well … their patience with Sanford grew thin.  Again.

Things got even worse for Sanford when rumors circulated that another “other woman” – specifically the wife of a wealthy Savannah, Georgia businessman – was to blame for the breakup.

A Lowcountry political operative told FITS Sanford’s electoral prospects have been harmed by his latest implosion – and the elevated level of write-in opposition is evidence of his weakened position.

“People who gave him a second chance feel let down,” the operative told FITS, adding that a credible, well-funded candidate could give Sanford a “run for his money” in 2016.

The operative added that Sanford’s problems would be compounded if this credible, well-funded opponent were a woman.

You don’t say …

Many establishment “Republicans” (and limited government backers) are jointly pushing precisely such a candidate – S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) director Catherine Templeton.  It’s not clear if the former Lowcountry lawyer is interested in running for Congress (some say she has her eye on the Governor’s Mansion in 2018), but it is clear she would be a formidable opponent in the event she jumped into the race.

Working in Sanford’s favor?  Time.

“Voters have short memories,” the operative told us – adding that Sanford still excels in fundraising and retail politics.

Additionally the governor – despite his many personal problems – continues to occupy a position on the right flank of the GOP’s shrinking ideological spectrum when it comes to freedom and free markets.  That’s solid gold real estate based on the emerging ideological direction of the country.

Working against Sanford?  Himself.

“If he locks himself in his office and somebody handcuffs themselves to him – and chaperones him to the floor to vote – then the (first district seat) is his for life,” one of Sanford’s D.C. colleagues told FITS bluntly.  “But we all know Mark isn’t going to do that.  He can’t help himself.”

Indeed …

But if he wants to hang onto his congressional seat – and the slim chance he could elevate his comeback to another level – he had better learn to take a firmer grip on himself.

Pic: Travis Bell Photography

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