Mark Sanford's Affair Follows Him On Campaign Trail For South Carolina House Seat

Mar 21, 2013
Originally published on March 26, 2013 10:15 am
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Now to the ever-entertaining world of South Carolina politics. Candidates in a special election for Congress include a former governor who gave hiking the Appalachian Trail entirely new meaning. That's Republican Mark Sanford, who wasn't hiking back in 2009, as reported by his staff, but was having an extramarital affair in Argentina that ended his marriage and his political aspirations for a time.

Also running is the sister of late night comedian Stephen Colbert, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Joining me from Columbia to talk about the race is Mark Tomkins. He teaches political science at the University of South Carolina. Mark, welcome to the program.


BLOCK: And let's talk about the Republican side first. There were 16 people running in the crowded primary and former Governor Sanford came out on top. He had 37 percent, but now faces a runoff. Who is he up against?

TOMPKINS: He's up against a local politician named Curtis Bostic. A little bit of a surprise, he was one of about five second tier candidates, but he got about 500 votes more than his nearest challenger.

BLOCK: So it will be Sanford against Bostic in the Republican runoff. We'll remember that back in 2009, Mark Sanford gave a remarkable, very lengthy televised confession about his affair. He's now, as I understand it, engaged to the woman he was having an affair with at the time. How has that infidelity played in the campaign so far?

TOMPKINS: Well, it sort of lurks, I guess, is the right word. Lots of people are talking about it and yet, he was very effective in an introductory campaign commercial in asking for forgiveness and then saying, having forgiven me, would you please vote for me.

BLOCK: Are voters thinking about this as a voting issue? Are you hearing from anybody that this is determinative in some way?

TOMPKINS: Well, I don't think there's any question that it is. It was magnified by Governor Sanford asking his former wife if she would be his campaign manager.

BLOCK: Now, he asked, but the answer was, as I understand it, a resounding no.

TOMPKINS: A resounding no.

BLOCK: Well, let's go over to the Democratic side now. Elizabeth Colbert Busch won that nomination. And apart from being Stephen Colbert's sister, what else can you tell us about her?

TOMPKINS: Well, she's had some experience in the business community and business development in working through one of our universities, Clemson University, over a number of years in the Charleston area. So she's well known in the community, which ought to serve her well in this district. This is a district that depends heavily on a port and other kinds of new business, used to depend on a Naval base that's now gone, but they've adapted successfully.

So her ties to the business community might well make her an effective opponent.

BLOCK: Well, the race is for the seat that's been vacated by Republican Tim Scott. He was appointed to fill Jim DeMint's seat in the Senate when he retired. It's also a seat that Mark Sanford held before he was governor, right?

TOMPKINS: That's right. He held it for three terms.

BLOCK: The last time that a Democrat was elected in this congressional district, South Carolina's first congressional district, was 1978. Do you assume that whichever Republican wins the runoff is a shoe-in for this seat, there's no way that a Democrat can win or does she have a chance?

TOMPKINS: I think there's a real chance of it. It's certainly a Republican seat, but it's important to acknowledge that Democrats have won in the area and the division between Republicans and Democrats seems a little more fluid than you might first think.

BLOCK: And what's the timetable going forward here? The runoff is when and when is the general election?

TOMPKINS: The runoff is less than two weeks from now and in about a month, we'll have the election for the next congressman from the first district.

BLOCK: Mark Tompkins teaches political science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Mark, thanks so much.

TOMPKINS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.