National Republicans on Wednesday abandoned former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) amid his ex-wife’s allegations that he trespassed in her home.
As damaging new details of Sanford’s family dispute emerged, the National Republican
Congressional Committee said it would not support his political comeback bid in South Carolina’s 1st congressional district.
Sanford and his ex-wife are due in court on May 9, two days after a special House election to fill the Charleston-based House seat vacated when former Rep. Tim Scott (R) was appointed to the Senate.
Jenny Sanford is accusing her ex-husband of repeatedly entering her home without permission. The two divorced after Sanford admitted in 2009 to an extramarital affair with an Argentinian woman, a scandal that also derailed his political career.
The former governor is facing Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, in his comeback attempt.
Strategists in both parties have been predicting a tight race. But the most recent allegations against Sanford — and the NRCC’s decision to stay on the sidelines —represent a dire threat to the Republican candidate’s chances.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had previously endorsed Sanford. His office did not respond to questions about whether he still supported the former governor.
Republicans say they were caught off guard by the trespassing allegations and complained Sanford had not told them about the unresolved dispute with his ex-wife.
“We were completely blindsided by this information. He hasn’t been honest with his own campaign and with us, and the path to victory has narrowed now,” a national Republican strategist said.
“We’re hearing rumors out there that there’s more stuff out there — that this is just the first shoe to drop.”
In documents filed with the Family Court for the Ninth Judicial District in South Carolina, Jenny Sanford accuses her ex-husband of entering her property “without her permission and against her wishes” on multiple occasions.
A visit in early February was only the latest in a series, she alleges.
According to accusations first reported by The Associated Press, she says her ex-husband trespassed at her Sullivan Island, S.C., home on Feb. 3.
Mark Sanford said in a statement Wednesday he went to his ex-wife’s home near Charleston to watch the Super Bowl with his son.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that divorced couples sometimes have disagreements that spill over into family court. I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone,” the former governor said.
The former couple has four sons.
“There is always another side to every story, and while I am particularly curious how records that were sealed to avoid the boys dealing with embarrassment are now somehow exposed less than three weeks before this election, I agree with Jenny that the media is no place to debate what is ultimately a family court matter,” Mark Sanford said in his statement.
“Out of respect for Jenny and the boys, I’m not going to have any further comment at this time.”
Sanford’s campaign didn’t reply to a request for comment on whether his visits were a pattern.
Jenny Sanford, who has not endorsed a candidate in the House race, told The Hill via email Wednesday morning that she didn’t know how the court documents became public.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a number of top Democrats are actively helping Colbert Busch raise money for the race, and the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC began airing ads on Wednesday attacking Sanford’s ethical history.
Sanford won the Republican nomination in an April 2 primary runoff against former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic.
Bostic told The Hill on Wednesday that Sanford shouldn’t have run in the first place and argued Sanford was always vulnerable to losing to Colbert Busch. He said the latest incident has already taken a toll on Sanford’s campaign.
“We’ve seen an effect today, haven’t we?” Bostic said. “The NRCC has pulled out. That certainly is an effect.”
It’s unclear if the GOP would be able to replace Sanford were he to drop out.
State law allows political parties to have a primary to replace candidates if those candidates can prove to the state election board that they have a “legitimate nonpolitical reason” for dropping out of the race such as health or family issues.
GOP sources say it may be better for Republicans if Sanford lost because the party would have a strong chance to win back the conservative district with a better candidate in 2014.
The trespassing allegations have damaged Sanford with members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation.
Many had remained neutral or endorsed someone else in the GOP primary, but several members of the delegation agreed to host an upcoming fundraiser for Sanford in Washington, D.C.
According to sources familiar with plans for the fundraiser, some of the South Carolina lawmakers listed as co-hosts had reservations about holding the event even before the trespassing allegations became public.
Now that fundraiser is in question, with one source saying the event has been a topic of much “discussion”over the past two days.
South Carolina GOP lawmakers were in no mood Wednesday to discuss the latest controversy swirling around Sanford.
“When in my life have I told you no comment? Never,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney. “I’m telling you now right now, I have absolutely nothing to say about Mr. Sanford. I’m learning to keep my big mouth shut.”
In January, Sanford told The Hill he consulted with his ex-wife — who had considered running herself — before entering the race for the House seat.
“I went out to the beach house on Sullivan’s Island; we visited on the front porch,” Sanford said.
“I told her if she had an interest in [running] that I’m out, because there’d be nothing crazier than a husband and a wife running against each other,” he told The Hill.
“It’d be a circus; it’d be bad for the boys. You guys in the media would have a field day with it.”
— Molly K. Hooper and Mario Trujillo contributed.
— Updated at 8:49 p.m.