Sanford defeated in primary defined by support for Trump

Greg Nash

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) appears to have lost his Tuesday primary, which became a referendum on his criticism of President Trump.

State Rep. Katie Arrington, who hammered Sanford as a traitor to Trump, is projected to win the GOP primary in a victory that may spell the end of Sanford’s long political career in the state.

The Associated Press called the race just after midnight, with Arrington leading Sanford, 51 percent-47 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Sanford becomes the second incumbent this cycle to lose a reelection bid in the primary.  
Sanford had never lost an election until Tuesday, even after he was caught having an affair in 2009 while governor. But his willingness to question Trump, who is lionized by the GOP primary electorate, proved politically fatal.
The congressman repeatedly criticized Trump both during the election and since the president took office. In 2017, he told Politico that Trump “has fanned the flames of intolerance” and has been one of the few GOP lawmakers to demand Trump release his tax returns.

That criticism became the centerpiece of Arrington’s campaign — she blasted Sanford as a “Never Trumper” on the stump and in campaign ads, arguing that the district would be best served by a Trump ally instead of an antagonist.

She also savaged him for his affair, airing an innuendo-laden television ad that told Sanford to “take a hike,” a reference to his initial cover story that he had been hiking the Appalachian Trail when he had really gone to Argentina to see his mistress.

That strategy won Arrington a last minute endorsement of Trump, who tweeted his support for her hours before the polls closed.

“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to [make American great again]. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina,” Trump wrote.

“I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!”

However, it’s unclear how important that tweet was to the final margin, considering it was sent less than three hours before the polls closed.

Sanford addressed his relationship with Trump during his concession speech, which he delivered before the results were official but with the writing very much on the wall. He warned of the “inflection point” in both American politics and the GOP while defending his decisions to take on Trump. 
“I’m neither for nor against Trump. I’m for ideas that I’ve long stood for of the entirety of my carer in politics based on limited government,” Sanford said. 
“It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president because I didn’t think, at the end of the day, it was concurrent with the promises I made when i first ran for office or the voices of the very people of the 1st District.”
An excited Arrington addressed her supporters shortly after, reminiscing about her journey from working the “graveyard” shift at a Denny’s as a young mother to now closing in on being South Carolina’s first female member of Congress. 
“I’ve been at the bottom of bottom, and now I’m on the highest of highs,” she said. 
And she made her loyalty to Trump clear as she criticized her next opponent, Democrat Joe Cunningham, for being too liberal for the district. 
“We are the party of President Donald J. Trump,” she told her supporters to cheers. 

Sanford is not the first incumbent to pay for a lack of fealty to Trump — Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) was forced to a primary runoff earlier this month thanks to her repudiation of Trump during the 2016 campaign. But unlike Sanford, her hopes are still alive. 

Arrington will now go on to face Democrat Joe Cunningham, a former ocean engineer turned lawyer who has mounted a serious campaign but is considered a significant underdog in a district Trump won by about 12 points in 2016.

Updated at 12:28 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Mark Sanford Martha Roby
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