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Fmr. Gov Mark Sanford Launches Political Comeback

10:57 AM, Jan 16, 2013   |    comments
Mark Sanford (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages)
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Catalina Camia, USA TODAY

Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford formally announced his bid for a political comeback Wednesday, saying he wants his old seat in Congress back to deal with the nation's fiscal woes.

The Republican, who was once thought of as a potential presidential candidate, made no mention in a written statement about the extramarital affair in 2009 that derailed his political career.

"I am running because our country's future is at stake if we don't get our hands around runaway government spending in Washington," said Sanford, who held South Carolina's 1st Congressional District seat from 1995 to 2001.

"And given our nation's long-term financial problems, we need more who have shown themselves to be leaders in standing up to the big spenders, regardless of party."

Sanford begins the race to succeed Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate, with high-name recognition in a crowded field that will include other current or former officeholders. But the open question is whether his character will be a dominant issue in the campaign and whether voters will be able to look past his affair with Maria Belen Chapur, now his fiancee.

Gibbs Knotts, chairman of the political science department at the College of Charleston, said the district's conservatism is a factor.

"We're in a conservative district in a very conservative state," Knotts said. "It's not just economic conservatism ... but there are also a high number of socially conservative voters. It may be very difficult for these individuals to forgive Sanford for his past actions."

The special election takes place on May 7. Primaries will be held on March 19.

Sanford was first elected to Congress in 1994, as part of the Republican revolution class that put the House GOP in power for the first time in four decades. As a governor, he was among the first to reject President Obama's stimulus money earmarked for his state and long espoused a view of limited government.

Sanford admitted to his affair in 2009 in a tearful, rambling news conference in which he acknowledged his infidelity and the steps he took to cover it up.

At the time, the governor had disappeared from the state for five days and his whereabouts were unknown to his wife, Jenny, or state law enforcement officers. Sanford's explanation to his staff that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail -- when he was actually in Argentina visiting his mistress -- later became fodder for late-show comedians.

In an interview with National Review Online published Tuesday, Sanford suggested voters should look beyond character issues and review his record in office.

"Don't judge any one person by their best day, don't judge them by their worst day," Sanford said. "Look at the totality, the whole of their life, and make judgments accordingly."

Jenny Sanford, who was granted a divorce in 2010, announced Monday she will not run for the House seat.

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