Former Gov. Mark Sanford will announce this morning he is running for the 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Beaufort County, according to his campaign adviser.
The announcement sets the stage for a comeback attempt by Sanford who, according to the most recent polling, isn't very popular after secretly leaving the state in 2009 to visit his Argentine lover, Maria Belen Chapur. He also paid the largest ethics penalty in state history: $74,000 in fines and $36,498 to cover ethics investigation costs. He plans to delay his marriage to Chapur because of the campaign, he said in an interview with the conservative magazine National Review, posted Tuesday.
"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."
He continued: "I think if you look at the almost 20 years in the larger federal or state debate, what you see is (my) amazingly consistent record on looking out for the taxpayer and trying to impact that which I think worries a lot of people right now, that spending locomotive that we have going in Washington right now."
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The 1st District includes a portion of the county where the Sanford family has owned property for decades. The seat was vacated when Tim Scott was appointed to replace U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who left his post with four years remaining in his term to lead the Heritage Foundation think tank.
Sanford's entrance -- which brings high name recognition and an impressive campaign account -- will be a game changer for the crowded field of other GOP candidates, who will likely alter their strategies. But don't expect them to make overt references to his personal failings, political operatives say.
"No one who is alive needs to be reminded of what he did," said Chip Felkel, an S.C. political consultant. "I don't think it is necessary, needed or wanted by the voters. No one wants to rehash that."
Instead, Felkel expects candidates to focus on building their own name recognition and on Sanford's questionable voting record and stances during his time in Congress and as governor. They'll likely leave it to the media to remind voters of the affair that ended his marriage, he said.
"I think it would be a mistake for them to build campaigns around running against Sanford," he said. "If they spend their time running against Mark, they make him a victim."
Walt Whetsell, campaign consultant for John Kuhn, a former state senator who is running for the seat, likens Sanford's run to that of former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who ran for the newly created 7th Congressional District seat last year and lost to Tom Rice, whose campaign Whetsell ran.
"Andre Bauer proved that just because everyone knows who you are and you have money doesn't translate into automatic Republican primary voters," Whetsell said. Voters "are not going to coronate Mark Sanford."
Meanwhile, Sanford says internal polling shows a path to victory.
"What that poll said was the obvious, and said what my gut was telling me: that there was a road to victory worth pursuing. It wasn't a gimme, but there was absolutely a road back. It was one of the last 'T's' we had to cross," Sanford told the National Review.
He did not disclose details about the polling, except to say it showed he had a higher favorable than unfavorable rating.