I’m in Charleston, South Carolina, today through Wednesday, on a fact-finding mission (the fact: my father celebrating his 80th birthday; the finding: there are few nicer places to be post-Labor Day — provided no hurricanes are working their way up the Atlantic seaboard).
So when in Rome . . .
One of my favorite signs that one sees posted in these parts: “Here in the South we don’t hide crazy. We parade it on the front porch and give it a cocktail”.
Charleston-area politics are keeping in that spirit. As proof: the local congressman, interim Republican Mark Sanford.
Yes, the same Mark Sanford who represented these parts in Congress back in the 1990s . . .
. . . The same Mark Sanford who went on to become South Carolina’s governor . . .
. . . And, yes, the same governor who made “hiking the Appalachian Trail” part of America’s political slang after a gubernatorial absence supposedly sparked by a need to clear his head that instead turned out to be a visit to Argentina to be with his mistress.
Which, in turn, led to Sanford resigning from office and his wife resigning from the marriage — a messy divorce that remains messy to this day (more on that in a moment) — and the former governor and possible presidential contender joining the Information Age’s rogues’ gallery of scandal-felled politicians (that list including presidential hopeful John Edwards (affair and love child), former Nevada Sen. John Ensign (affair with staffer married to fellow staffer), former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer (“Client 9″ in a prostitution ring) and former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (“Carlos Danger” of tweeting/sexting fame).
But here’s what’s different about Sanford. Whereas the other aforementioned scandal-pols are lifetime radioactive, Sanford is the Lazarus of the bunch. Not only did he run again in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District (an opening made available when then-Rep. Tim Scott was named to Sen. Jim DeMint’s seat), but he actually won.
And, in 2014, Sanford’s unopposed in the November election.
How’d this once-disgraced politician pull it off?
1) The 2013 opponent. Sanford had the good fortune of running against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Bush in the May 2013 special election to fill out Scott’s term. You might recognize the middle name: she’s the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert (also in the race: Republican Teddy Turner Jr., the son of media mogul Ted Turner). This time, Sanford actually was on the trail — working the district’s grassroots. And he tied his Democratic opponent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — as in most other parts of the South then and now, a bad place for a Democratic congressional hopeful to be.
2) The district. Why’d the Pelosi connection work? Because SC CD-1 is decidedly Republican territory: the GOP has a 20% registration advantage. The district’s seen a resurgence in local business and manufacturing; a signature employer, Boeing, makes life difficult for any labor-friendly Democrat given the conflict between the aviation giant and the National Labor Relations Board over right-to-work. However, SC-1’s also a rather unique part of South Carolina: it’s coastal, only 21% rural, and one of the few areas of the state that went with Mitt Romney instead of Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Translation: though decidedly Republican (Romney carried the district by 18% in November 2012), it’s maybe a little more open-minded than, say, the heavily religious upstate, to Sanford’s past transgressions.
3) The ex-wife. Most political scandals involving adultery have the same lead characters: a cheating husband, a sympathetic wife. But not so, in Sanford’s case. Earlier this month, news broke that the congressman’s ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, had filed a legal complaint to limit their 16-year-old son’s interaction with her former spouse’s lover, Maria Belen Chapur, and suggesting the child was exposed to excessive drug and alcohol use. Just as, in April 2013 (yes, right before the special election), it came out that the ex-Mrs. Sanford had filed a lawsuit alleging that her ex-husband had trespassed on her property, violating the terms of their divorce agreement. Sanford’s response to the latest associations: “preposterous, crazy and wrong”. Local observers see the whole thing in a cinematic light: the Sanfords are “Chucktown’s” version of 1989’s The War of the Roses — the tale of a warring couple who literally duel to their deaths.
Only, that movie last a couple of hours. The Sanford’s war of wordslegalactionthreats seems to have no end — as evidence, this remarkable Sept. 12 tweet from the congressman.
So there you have it — a political comeback unlike any other in recent times (with the possible exception of Bill Clinton going from nearly impeached to respected elder statesman).
Crazy? Maybe. Or maybe not.
But definitely on the front porch.
And certainly worth a cocktail to two.
Bonus coverage: The War of the Roses trailer . . .
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