MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — Just two weeks after former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won the Republican nomination in a special election for a House seat, his bid for a political comeback veered back into weirdness on Wednesday amid revelations that his former wife is taking him to court for trespassing and that the national GOP is washing its hands of his candidacy.
Sanford’s strong victory in the April 2 primary had made him the presumptive favorite in this heavily Republican congressional district. It was also read as a sign that he had begun to find redemption after the 2009 adultery scandal that ended his marriage and put his governorship in jeopardy.
Sanford has been ordered to appear at a hearing on his ex-wife’s complaint that she caught him leaving her house in February, using his cellphone as a flashlight. He said in a statement on Wednesday that he had gone to the house to watch the Super Bowl with his son while his ex-wife was away.
Tensions over victory rally
Tensions within the family also flared at Sanford’s victory rally on April 2, when he put two of his four sons onstage with the former mistress who is now his fiancee. For 17-year-old Bolton Sanford, that very public moment was the first time he had ever been in the presence of Maria Belen Chapur, according to Jenny Sanford.
“That was indeed Bolton’s first intro and both boys were quite upset and visibly so,” Jenny Sanford said in a text message.
A spokesman for Mark Sanford declined to comment.
Sanford’s stumbles have significantly brightened the prospects of Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a businesswoman and political newcomer who has been making few public appearances but who has benefited from the reflected celebrity and fundraising help of her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert. In a brief appearance at a diner here on Wednesday, Busch declined to comment on the latest controversy surrounding her opponent, saying she preferred to focus on jobs and the economy.
Busch’s best hope of victory in this district, which went 58 percent for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential contest, is to win a significant share of the votes of women — both independents and Republicans, her strategists say.
Sanford’s behavior is one reason her team believes she has a chance of doing that.
“I’m definitely not a supporter of his, is how I’d put it,” said Alissa DeCarlo, a waitress at the Boulevard Diner, where Busch made a quick round of the tables, making small talk with patrons.
GOP group steers clear
The National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday took the unusual step of signaling that it will not spend money on his campaign.
“Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections. At this time, the NRCC will not be engaged in this special election,” the NRCC said in a statement, which was first reported by Politico.