“LUV GOV” COULD HAVE A CAT FIGHT ON HIS HANDS …
It’s been nearly four years since U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford pulled off his improbable political comeback – winning a special election to the U.S. House and reclaiming the congressional seat he previously held from 1995-2001.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, Sanford’s political rebirth has borne zero resemblance to his principled beginnings in politics nearly a quarter of a century ago. After building his brand railing against “career politicians,” Sanford has now become one.
No longer the taxpayer hero, limited government champion he once was, Sanford has become a typical Washington Republican (click here, here and here for our reports chronicling this unfortunate evolution).
Perhaps due to his fading ideological allegiances – or perhaps due to other factors – Sanford dramatically underperformed expectations during his 2016 GOP primary race against former S.C. Rep. Jenny Horne.
Congressional observers expected Sanford to pummel Horne by a 65-35 spread (at least), but he won the race by just ten percentage points. The fact that Horne wasn’t an especially adept candidate and struggled to raise money only underscores Sanford’s poor showing.
Throw in a looming campaign finance scandal and a curiously unresolved criminal investigation and it’s easy to see why the former two-term South Carolina governor – who still fancies himself as a presidential contender – is viewed as increasingly vulnerable.
Who will run against him, though?
The name at the top of the list has always been Lowcountry labor attorney and former S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) director Catherine Templeton.
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A brilliant policy mind and adept messenger, Templeton (above) could be Sanford’s worst nightmare for any number of reasons. In addition to her status as an outsider (a role Sanford is used to playing himself), Templeton would have no trouble matching the former “Luv Gov” on issues, in retail political settings and – most importantly – in campaign contributions.
Oh, and she could do all of that without incessantly navel-gazing about her personal life.
Luckily for Sanford, Templeton has (had?) set her sights on another office – and has publicly rejected suggestions that she enter this race. Her calculus may have changed in recent weeks given what’s happening in state politics, although at this point we’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest a congressional bid is in her future.
Who might challenge Sanford, though? According to our network of sources in the first congressional district, Horne wants a rematch against him in 2018 – believing she can pull off the upset that eluded her last spring.
We don’t think that’s a likely scenario, but having already campaigned for this seat once (and done far better than anyone expected) a Horne 2.0 bid cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Assuming Horne doesn’t run, though, any number of prospective candidates could fill the void.
Former U.S. Senate candidate Nancy Mace is one name that has been bandied about of late, although the first female graduate of The Citadel military college is reportedly enjoying her new career in real estate and not especially eager to become a candidate.
A former co-owner of this website, Mace recently served on the victorious presidential campaign of Donald Trump – an effort we’re sure kept her political skills and connections sharp.
Former S.C. Rep. Anne Peterson is also mentioned by our first district sources as a possible contender for this seat. After serving one term in the S.C. House as a centrist Democrat from James Island, S.C., Peterson has not only become a Republican – she’s also become one of the most influential young lobbyists at the S.C. State House.
We’re told she has also adeptly cultivated some serious corporate connections within the district – relationships that could prove very useful in the event she decides to return to the public sector.
Perhaps the most enticing option against Sanford, though, is newly-elected S.C. Rep. Katie Arrington (below).
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Arrington pulled off a major upset last spring when she defeated governor Nikki Haley‘s preferred candidate, Carroll Duncan, in a Republican primary election for S.C. House District 94 (map here). Duncan is the mother-in-law of one of Haley’s biggest donors and most loyal political allies, Chad Walldorf – a crony capitalist who has also given big bucks to Sanford’s campaigns over the years.
According to our sources, Arrington is not only a policy and operational wonk, she’s tenacious and well-connected financially – attributes could prove tremendously useful in a campaign against the wonkish, well-funded Sanford.
Which one of these women will ultimately step up and run against Sanford? It’s not clear yet. Maybe none of them will. Maybe all of them will. But the fact that there is this much speculation this soon regarding Sanford’s potential challengers underscores just how vulnerably he really is.
(Banner via U.S. House)