The National Republican Congressional Committee announced today that it will no longer support Mark Sanford’s campaign in the special election for the open seat in South Carolina’s 1st U.S. House District. This dramatic announcement suggests that the trespassing charge brought yesterday against Sanford by his ex-wife Ginny, who is a popular figure in Republican circles, is viewed as fatal to Sanford’s campaign within the party establishment.
One reason that the NRCC and other Sanford supporters may be irked is that the trespassing incident — which Sanford admitted to today — happened in February, well before voting in the primary for the special election, which took place on March 19, but was kept secret until yesterday. According to Politico:
The NRCC’s move comes hours after Tuesday night’s report by the Associated Press that Sanford’s ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, filed a court complaint accusing him of trespassing at her home in early February – which would be a violation of the terms of their divorce agreement.
Republicans said they were caught off guard by news of Jenny Sanford’s complaint. They worry other damaging revelations about Mark Sanford’s personal life that they aren’t aware of could come out in the coming weeks.
The NRCC has spent a nominal amount on the race on polling and other activities. But officials determined that devoting potentially millions more — which was under discussion — isn’t worth it.
“This is an unfortunate situation but this is what happens when candidates aren’t honest and withhold information,” said one GOP operative.
Sanford certainly did not help himself today by issuing a written statement in which he blamed the incident on his 14-year-old son:
“I did, indeed, watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father, I didn’t think he should watch it alone. Given she was out of town, I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cell phone when she returned and told her what had happened.”
This is not the first bizarre behavior South Carolina voters have witnessed on the part of Sanford, of course. In 2009, during his term as governor, he was censured after he secretly left the country — he did not even inform the lieutenant governor — in order to spend time in Argentina with his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, who is now reportedly his fiance.
During the scandal, it also came to light that Sanford is member of a powerful theocratic Christianist cult sometimes called the Family based in Washington. In fact, he is one of four members — along with former Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and John Ensign (R-Nevada) and former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) — who in recent years have acknowledged engaging in the sin of adultery. A key element of the cult’s dogma is that its members are “chosen ones” and so are exempt from biblical law, which means that sins like adultery do not accrue against them.
Despite this episode, Sanford’s Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, will still have an uphill battle to win on May 7, because the the GOP-controlled South Carolina legislature has gerrymandered the district to heavily favor Republicans.