Just when his apology tour was going so well, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford is in the headlines again — and not for his conservative fiscal policies. His ex-wife Jenny Sanford has filed a trespassing complaint saying that in violation of their divorce settlement, she caught him leaving her home in February, using his cell phone as a flashlight.
Jenny Sanford has confirmed that court documents obtained by The Associated Press were authentic, but didn’t give any more details. She told The State newspaper on Tuesday, “We have had a number of matters [in the divorce], and we have to deal with them in private.”
Well, except that her husband is running a very public U.S. Congressional race. “The race is not a concern,” Jenny Sanford said. “I am focused on raising my children.”
This can’t be the news South Carolina Republicans wanted to see weeks before a May 7 special election Sanford has a great chance of winning. (A May 9 hearing is set for the complaint.) Though that win would be going backward for the former governor – back to the U.S. House 1st District seat, the one he held before his two terms in the statehouse. But after the scandal surrounding the then-governor’s 2009 disappearing act to Argentina to visit his then-mistress – he said he was “hiking the Appalachian trail” – returning to Congress constitutes a pretty remarkable and swift comeback and a step toward political redemption.
The new and improved Sanford, now engaged to his former girlfriend, won the GOP primary and runoff to replace Tim Scott, now elevated to the U.S. Senate. His ads insisted that the 2009 affair and its aftermath made him a better person and candidate, and he stressed his conservative bona fides. Though he has a formidable Democratic opponent in Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of TV’s Stephen Colbert, the traditionally GOP district of Charleston and its environs made for a pretty smooth path.
But weeks before the election, voters are reminded of the old Sanford, the governor who left the state without leadership or a truthful explanation, gave rambling news conferences after the fact, and paid more than $70,000 in ethics fines before leaving office.
Just after the runoff, Chad Connelly, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement: “Washington, D.C., needs conservative leaders like Mark Sanford now more than ever and we look forward to sending him back to Congress.” Mark Sanford has issued a statement saying he had gone to his ex-wife’s home to watch the Super Bowl with his 14-year-old son. Colbert Busch hasn’t said a thing, though she doesn’t have to.
Jenny Sanford wrote her own book after the scandal and made the rounds of talk shows and signing tours. For a while, she was said to be interested in the 1st congressional seat herself. But though many, me included, savored a Sanford vs. Sanford race, she demurred when her husband declared his candidacy and has been quiet ever since. A report did surface that Mark Sanford asked Jenny Sanford – considered to have been the brains of past campaigns – to help this time around. She declined.
This latest scandal might not make a difference on May 7. Sanford may well win despite the latest drama and an opponent like Colbert Busch. And that would be proof that this South Carolina house race could possibly be won by anyone with an “R” after the name.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3