House races

The five strangest moments of Sanford’s House campaign

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) attempted political resurrection has turned the state’s House special election into one of the most unusual races in recent memory. 

{mosads}He’s been damaged by personal accusations and peculiar missteps, and responded in ways previously unimagined by political operatives.

Senior Republicans believe Sanford could still win in the heavily conservative district on May 7 — but it won’t be easy.  Or pretty. 

Here are the five strangest moments of the campaign.

1. Sanford asks his ex-wife Jenny Sanford to be his campaign manager

Jenny Sanford was her husband’s campaign manager and top political adviser for most of his time as governor, until his “Appalachian Trail” affair ended their marriage and derailed his career.

She has been rumored to have political aspirations of her own, and before he jumped in to the race, Sanford wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be running against her in the GOP primary. 

He told The Hill in February that he’d visited Jenny at her Sullivan Island, S.C., home to make sure she wouldn’t run for the House seat before deciding on his own campaign. 

But Jenny Sanford told New York magazine that she’d informed her ex-husband the day before that she wasn’t planning to run — and that he came that day to ask her to oversee his campaign. 

When she refused, the notoriously frugal politician reportedly tried to sweeten the pot.

“I could pay you this time,” he said.

2. Sanford brings his fiancé — and former mistress — onstage alongside his kids

Sanford has mostly kept Maria Belen Chapur, his former mistress and current fiancé, in the shadows far away from the campaign trail. He told The Hill she’s a “very private person” and still lived in Argentina.

But that changed on the night of his primary win when he brought her onstage to celebrate — alongside two of his four sons. 

Sources say that’s the first time one of the boys had met Chapur. Jenny Sanford told The Washington Post that both of her sons “were upset — and visibly so” about being put in that position.

3. Mark Sanford’s ex-wife accuses him of repeatedly trespassing

Jenny Sanford filed court documents accusing him of repeatedly trespassing at her home, and continuing to do so after he promised her he’d stop.

The documents became public earlier this month, causing a media firestorm. 

Sanford responded with a statement saying he was there only to watch the Super Bowl with one of his sons. But he hasn’t addressed whether there was a pattern of visiting her home without permission.

The accusations blindsided national Republicans, who quickly cut ties with Sanford. The National Republican Congressional Committee has refused to spend a dime on his behalf ever since.

The Sanfords are due in court on May 9, just two days after the House special election.

4. Sanford takes out full-page ad to explain the trespassing charges

With his campaign taking on water, Sanford took out a full-page ad in the Charleston Post and Courier to explain why he was at his wife’s home, criticizing the media of “grabbing for headlines” by covering the story, and warning that Democrats were pouring in resources to defeat him. 

He then compared himself to those who fought at the Alamo (getting the year of the battle wrong) because he was being outspent by a wide margin, and promised to “fight to the end toward freedom.” 

He also included his personal cellphone number for those with any questions.

The House Majority PAC, a Democratic outside group, reprinted Sanford’s cell number — and he began receiving calls from Democrats from across the country. 

His response has been to take screen grabs of those callers’ numbers from his cellphone and post them on his campaign website.

5. Sanford debates cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi

The former governor has spent the last few days debating a cardboard cutout of the House minority leader, a ploy to tie her to national Democrats and to call attention to the refusal of his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, to debate him more than once.

He also criticized Colbert Busch for receiving union contributions, a focus of his campaign. 

Sanford pulled the gag not once but twice in two days.  Candidates typically don’t demand more debates, or stage political stunts for media attention, when they are the front-runner. 


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video