Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) was defeated by state legislator Katie Arrington, losing the first election of his career just hours after President Donald J. Trump endorsed his challenger in a tweet.
“I think that I’ll end up losing,” Sanford told voters at his election night party. “It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”
When Sanford made the remarks, he was trailing Arrington by nearly 3,000 votes, though there was still a possibility that both candidates could be forced into a runoff. As more precincts came in, Arrington’s vote held above 50 percent, with Sanford trailing by 5 points.
“We are the party of President Donald J. Trump,” Arrington told supporters at a campaign party in North Charleston.
Sanford, whose political career began with the 1994 Republican Revolution, is now the second Republican congressman to be rejected in a primary this year. The first was Rep. Robert Pittenger (N.C.), who was defeated by a conservative pastor in a race last month.
But Trump had stayed away from Pittenger’s race, and few Republicans in Congress had a national profile like Sanford.
The congressman, who won his first race in 1994, served two terms as governor and was briefly seen as a national leader for his party on fiscal issues. That ended in 2009, when he admitted traveling to Argentina to carry out an affair.
Sanford’s career seemed to be over, but in 2013, when the 1st district opened up in a special election, Sanford ran and won — despite the National Republican Congressional Committee cutting ties with his campaign. In 2014, he didn’t even draw a primary opponent.
In 2016, Sanford sat on his campaign war chest and defeated a challenger by only 12 points. Arrington, a rising star in the party and a favorite of Sanford’s old rivals in the state capitol, jumped into the race and pounded Sanford over comments he’d made criticizing Trump’s tone and Trump’s muddled understanding of the Constitution, as well as his vote against a spending bill that would have put a down payment on a wall across the Mexican border.
“He is nothing but trouble,” Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the polls closed.
Sanford, who had once called himself a “dead man walking,” took the primary challenge seriously. He spent close to $400,000 on TV ads in which he told voters that he “overwhelmingly” supported Trump — 89 percent of the time, his votes aligned with the White House — and warned that Arrington had voted to raise taxes within South Carolina.
Arrington will now face Joe Cunningham, an attorney and first-time candidate who easily won the Democratic primary. Democrats have not seriously contested the Charleston-based district since Sanford’s 2013 race, but in 2016, Trump carried it with just 53.5 percent of the vote.
Cunningham, like many 2018 Democratic candidates in conservative districts, has said that he will not support House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker if Democrats win the election.