Mark Sanford is in a difficult place politically. Basically, the guy is trapped.
In 2013 – after Sanford won a special election to the U.S. Congress – the path ahead of him seemed simple and straightforward.
He would spend a few years in Washington, D.C. rebuilding his tattered image, then run for governor of South Carolina (the office he held from 2003-2011) and finally launch the presidential campaign everyone expected to see from him back in 2012.
Things haven’t worked out that way, though … leaving the 57-year-old politician increasingly behind schedule on his comeback playbook.
Sanford’s “second step” on the road back to national relevance simply isn’t feasible … and it’s looking increasingly as though his current job representing the Palmetto State’s first congressional district (map) is something he is going to have to fight to hold onto, as well.
A presidential campaign? LOL.
To be clear, Sanford has denied any interest in seeking higher office – telling a Lowcountry radio host just this week that he is focused on being a congressman. Translation? Higher offices simply aren’t interested in Sanford.
As we noted earlier this month, Sanford is struggling to raise money for his reelection bid against first-term state representative Katie Arrington – whose candidacy is building all sorts of buzz among grassroots activists.
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(Via: Katie Arrington)
Sanford’s campaign against Arrington (above) will be waged after a terribly underwhelming performance last year against then-S.C. Rep. Jenny Horne, whose candidacy generated zero buzz.
Supporters of the congressman tell us he’ll be fine … arguing he deliberately spent no money in his 2016 race against Horne.
“He won’t make the same mistake twice,” one Sanford backer told us.
Money may not matter, though.
Sanford been dogged by reports of a lingering campaign finance scandal as well as unresolved allegations of child abuse involving his young niece. As of this writing, a S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation into the mysterious June 2016 incident involving Sanford and his grammar school-aged niece remains open.
More recently, Sanford has been ensnared by #NukeGate – a mushrooming political scandal related to state government’s abandonment of a multi-billion nuclear power project. In 2007, Sanford – then in his second term as governor of South Carolina – allowed a bill socializing the investment risk for this controversial project to become law without his signature.
Any of these issues could sink Sanford’s reelection bid … giving him zero margin for error in his upcoming race against Arrington.
You’d think a politician in his situation might be playing the “game of addition.”
Not Sanford …
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In addition to emerging as one of the most prominent #NeverTrumpers in Congress, Sanford is increasingly at odds with the GOP establishment he belatedly embraced (click here, here and here for our reports chronicling his unfortunate evolution into an establishment “Republican”).
Sanford’s isolation from his GOP peers was on full display earlier this month at the S.C. “Republican” party’s annual Silver Elephant banquet. Not only was he the only member of the state’s congressional delegation who declined to sponsor a table at this event, he was the only one who didn’t get a shout-out from the evening’s guest speaker, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Gardner found something nice to say about every other South Carolina “Republican” serving in Washington … but omitted Sanford from his remarks completely.
Eschewing the GOP establishment is nothing new for Sanford. His political brand was built on a principled pro-taxpayer, socially libertarian streak. But somewhere along the way, Sanford’s principles fell by the wayside and political expediency took precedence.
Now he’s fighting a two-front war – against Trump’s populism and the GOP establishment.
As his political prospects have dimmed, Sanford’s always eclectic personal life has reportedly gotten even weirder – leading some of his longtime supporters to worry about his mental health.
“Mark was an odd duck when everything was right there in front of him,” one of Sanford’s longtime friends told us recently. “Transitioning to ‘what might have been’ hasn’t been pretty.”
Obviously Sanford remains the frontrunner to hold onto his seat next June, but his candidacy is increasingly beginning to resemble a ticking time bomb … one donors and party activists of all stripes are fleeing daily.
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