Back to the future for Mark Sanford
May 15th, 2013
07:54 PM ET
10 years ago

Back to the future for Mark Sanford

Washington (CNN) - Mark Sanford is a member of Congress, again.

The former Republican governor of South Carolina, whose political career was left for dead along the Appalachian Trail after an extramarital affair, was sworn in Wednesday to the House of Representatives.

"I stand before you, I guess, with a whole new appreciation indeed for a God of second chances and how in the events of our life, up or down they may be, how every one of us can be refined as human beings in that process," said Sanford in an address to the chamber, minutes after being sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner.

Last week Sanford defeated Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of satirist and "Comedy Central" host Stephen Colbert, in a special election to fill the vacant House seat in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, an office Sanford held for three terms before becoming governor.

Joining Sanford on the floor of House were some members of South Carolina's GOP congressional delegation, many of whom opposed the former governor's bid for political redemption. GOP Rep. Joe Wilson, who spoke on behalf of the South Carolina delegation, touted the difficult election process Sanford had to survive.

"We're here today to recognize the survivor of the primary, the run off, and general election Mark Sanford," he said.

Wilson did not support Sanford in his bid for Congress.

Sanford, who touted his fiscal conservative credentials in his campaign, hinted that dealing with the deficit would be one of his top concerns.

"I look forward to working with you on a whole host of issues, obviously greatest among them for me would be efforts to get our financial house back in order here in Washington D.C.," he said.

Sanford concluded his speech to applause by adding that "I'm humbled to be here and I look forward to working with each one of you."

Sanford's now-fiancée Maria Belen Chapur and his two sons were in the visitors' gallery as Sanford took his oath. Earlier Wednesday, Sanford invited family, friends and volunteers who assisted his campaign, to a lunch in his new House office.

Sanford was in his second term as governor in 2009 when he disappeared from public view for several days.

At the time, his staff claimed he'd been hiking the Appalachian Trail. He later admitted that he was actually in Argentina, seeing Chapur, with whom he was having an affair.

The episode sank any hopes Sanford had of making a bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Sanford and wife Jenny divorced in 2010. He finished his second term as governor in January 2011, after being censured and fined tens of thousands of dollars for ethics violations, exiting to what many thought would be political obscurity.

But he came back, beating out 15 other candidates earlier this year to win the Republican nomination in the race for the vacant House seat. From the start, Sanford was very open about the affair on the campaign trail and made it the subject of his first TV ad.

And even with all his political baggage, he was considered the favorite in the race until April, when court documents revealed his ex-wife had filed complaints against him for allegedly trespassing on her property. Sanford told CNN that he didn't want to leave his sons home alone while their mother was away.

Not long after the trespassing story broke, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced it was pulling out of the race and national Democratic groups announced they were throwing more money into the contest.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and independent pro-Democrat House Majority PAC combined dished out nearly $1 million in an effort to defeat Sanford.

The two groups, as well as Colbert Busch, highlighted the affair.

At their only general election debate, Colbert Busch brought up Sanford's secret trip to Argentina. And her campaign ran a TV commercial that slammed Sanford for using "tax dollars to visit his mistress in Argentina, disappeared for a week leaving no one in charge, betrayed all who trusted him, then lied to cover it up. Mark Sanford, it's a question of character."

The DCCC and House Majority PAC also spotlighted the affair in their final ads.

But over the final month leading up to the election, another woman entered the campaign spotlight: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Sanford and his campaign repeatedly tied Colbert Busch to Pelosi, saying that a vote for Colbert Busch would also be a vote for Pelosi, who has high negatives with Republican voters and who most likely would become House speaker again if the Democrats run the table and regain control of the chamber in next year's midterm elections. He even debated a cardboard cutout of Pelosi to call out Colbert Busch for not accepting more than one debate.

Sanford also repeatedly brought up the money that national Democratic groups have poured into the South Carolina race. Colbert Busch, responding to the Sanford criticism, sought to distance herself from Washington and from national Democrats. In the end, Sanford beat Colbert Busch by 9 percentage points.

The congressional seat, which has been in GOP hands for more than three decades, became vacant when Rep. Tim Scott, who won re-election by 27 percentage points last November, was picked by GOP Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the Senate seat of Sen. Jim DeMint, who stepped down late last year to take over as the head of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Filed under: House • Mark Sanford • South Carolina
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Concerned citizen

    Uh, I don't know, but looks like "Orange man" is not so happy!

    May 15, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  2. lottie

    yes Mr. Orangeman shake this guys hand. Good old Republican values at work. This dude lied and left the country at the tax payers expense. He was awol and he gets a pass. But Boehner wants heads to roll at the IRS. Funny how when the IRS was examining some liberal groups and churches and green peace , no one in congress was interested at all. The IRS is out of line for sure but when it is against the left congress doesn't see any harm. It is scenes like this that shows the real sleeze in the GOP.

    May 15, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  3. Safejourney

    Ha, good ol' republicans family values guy. Oh and don't forget about fiscal responsibility, Sanford stole taxpayer money for his affair

    May 15, 2013 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  4. will never vote Republician again

    Disgusting! How stupid are Republican voters?

    May 15, 2013 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  5. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Wow, what a sad sight this is. The town drunk and the man who abandoned his family and his state shaking hands.

    May 15, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  6. Steve S

    Is that his new wife, or did he bring another mistress with him?

    Mark Sanford......Making South Carolina proud!!

    May 15, 2013 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  7. Thomas

    Joe Wilson / Mark Sanford
    Family Values , Conservative Values

    May 16, 2013 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  8. Name lynn

    Mark you are back in the spot lights again well get it together, keep you record clean because people going into people back ground the people need to go into their back ground an what will they find.

    May 16, 2013 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  9. thomase

    What a joke. You could probably run as a child m*lestor with an R in front of your name in the south and be voted in by the GOP.

    May 16, 2013 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  10. Mr Dalloway

    Do as I say not as I do

    May 16, 2013 07:57 am at 7:57 am |