Sanford: 'I have failed … but I have to get up'
Two years ago, the idea of former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford running for public office again – let alone winning – would have seemed, at best, farfetched.
But in politics two years is a long time.
Sanford, whose final year as governor was marred by a scandal that made national headlines, is asking for a second chance. The fiscal conservative with a libertarian streak is a candidate in the special election for the open District 1 seat in the U.S. Congress, the job Sanford held before becoming governor.
He is one of 16 Republicans running for that party's nomination; the primary election is set for March 19, and a runoff election, if needed, will be held on April 2. The general election is May 7.
Sanford, who has appeared on national TV programs in recent weeks, including the Today Show, said he received the blessing of his sons before entering the race. He said he would not have entered the race if his former wife, Jenny Sanford, had become a candidate.
“I failed in that chapter of my life,” he said of the extramarital affair that ended his marriage – and seemingly his political career. “But at some point you say, 'I have failed but I have to get up.' God can still use people who have failed.”
Sanford said he has been encouraged by several recent polls that show him leading the crowded GOP field. It's a sign, he says, that trust still exists for him in District 1. “We wouldn't be getting endorsements, contributions and volunteers if there wasn't some degree of trust,” he said. “Old timers comment that they aren't going to judge me on my worst day any more than they are going to judge me on my best day.”
According to Sanford, his steep fall from grace has been hard, but he also hinted that it has a silver lining. “All of my life had been one step up and one step up … but people don't relate to that,” he said. “You learn much more as a human being from failure than from success. You learn from what others have learned from failure.”
Sanford said he had not planned to re-enter politics, but the unexpected resignation of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint eventually created an opening in the First District, as Gov. Nikki Haley chose then-U.S. Rep. Tim Scott to fill DeMint's vacancy.
Sanford said he began receiving phone calls from supporters encouraging his candidacy as soon as it became clear that Scott would be Haley's choice.
“My phone lit up,” he said. “People were saying that I was talking about the debt before when no one else was talking about it.”
Sanford's candidacy has been met with a wide range of reactions: from elation by his supporters; to outrage by those who are still upset not only by Sanford's personal problems, but the fact that he left the state for several days while governor without telling anyone where he was going.
At least one Republican candidate – Andy Patrick of Beaufort – has publicly challenged Sanford's suitability for office, attacks that Sanford shrugs off. “That's politics,” he said.
Sanford knows that, ultimately, his fate will be decided by the voters.