WASHINGTON -- Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s comeback try encountered severe turbulence Wednesday when the National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew its financial support less than three weeks before a special election for his former House seat.
The action by the GOP’s campaign arm came one day after a damaging allegation by Sanford’s ex-wife came to light. It accused him of a pattern of trespassing at her house in violation of their 2010 divorce decree.
“Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections,” said Andrea Bozek, NRCC communications director, in a statement. “At this time, the NRCC will not be engaged in this special election.” The NRCC had not yet begun advertising on Sanford’s behalf and had spent relatively little on his campaign, an official said.
Much of the Republican establishment has been holding Sanford at a distance, though he did receive the endorsement of House Speaker John Boehner this month after winning the GOP nomination in a runoff primary.
Republicans are worried that more damaging revelations about Sanford’s personal life could emerge before the election, according to a Republican official. The official confirmed an account in Politico, which first reported the NRCC’s action and quoted a GOP operative as calling the committee’s decision to abandon Sanford “an unfortunate situation” which “happens when candidates aren’t honest and withhold information.”
On Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported that the former governor has been ordered to appear in family court on May 9, two days after the election, to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court for violating his divorce agreement.
Sanford’s ex-wife, Jenny, in a complaint dated Feb. 4, said she returned to her house on Sunday, Feb. 3, to find the former governor leaving through the back door, using his cellphone as a flashlight. She called it part of “a pattern of entering” her property “without her permission and against her wishes.” She also said that she had previously demanded that her ex-husband stop the visits and had filed a “No Trespass” letter with the local police department.
Sanford, best known for claiming that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina, issued a statement Wednesday in response to news of his ex-wife’s accusation. In it, the former governor said that he had come to her house while she was away to watch the Super Bowl with one of their four sons, a teenager, who was at home alone.
“It's an unfortunate reality that divorced couples sometimes have disagreements that spill over into family court,” he said. “I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son [Blake] because as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone.”
Sanford said he had tried to reach his ex-wife “to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cellphone when she returned and told her what had happened.
“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, and out of respect for Jenny and the boys, I'm not going to have any further comment at this time,” Sanford said.
Sanford’s private life and personal failures have been at the center of his attempt to regain public office, two years after leaving the governorship. Jenny Sanford had told the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington bureau last month that she had refused her ex-husband’s request to run his latest campaign. And Sanford’s Argentine fiancee, Maria Belen Chapur, made a surprise appearance at his victory celebration on the night of the April 2 runoff election.
The Washington Post reported that it was the first time that Sanford’s 17-year-old son, Bolton, had met Chapur. In a text message, Jenny Sanford said, “That was indeed Bolton’s first intro and both boys were quite upset and visibly so.”
On Wednesday, a Democratic super PAC released an anti-Sanford attack ad designed to remind voters of Sanford’s past, including a record fine that he paid to settle ethics charges and his international travel, including visiting Argentina.
Sanford’s Democratic opponent is Elizabeth “Lulu” Colbert Busch, a civic activist and sister of TV comedian Stephen Colbert. The winner of the May 7 special election will fill the seat left vacant when Republican Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to fill the term of Sen. Jim DeMint, who quit the join the Heritage Foundation.