State Sen. Tom Davis on Tuesday backed Mark Sanford's comeback bid for Congress, giving the former governor his first endorsement with five weeks to go until the GOP primary.
Davis, a Beaufort Republican and Sanford's former chief of staff, told reporters that of all the candidates running, Sanford has the record, temperament and political backbone to control spending and rein in debt in Washington.
"Right now, when you've got a battle going on in Washington, D.C., for what direction this country is going to go in, he is the proven commodity," Davis said. "He is somebody who is able to get something done.
"I know he has the conviction and moral rectitude to stand up in D.C. for us, so for me it's an easy call."
Sanford is one of 16 vying for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Beaufort County, in the March 19 primary. The seat opened up when Tim Scott was appointed to the U.S. Senate, replacing Republican Jim DeMint, who retired to lead the Heritage Foundation. Two Democrats are running for their party's nomination, which still leans Republican after the 2011 redistricting.
A former congressman and two-term governor, Sanford's political career imploded in 2009 when he announced an affair with an Argentine woman. Sanford says the two are now engaged.
Davis and Sanford have been friends for more than 30 years, having attended Furman University together in the early 1980s. Davis also worked on Sanford's gubernatorial campaigns before becoming chief of staff.
Although not entirely unexpected, Davis' endorsement could help some voters get over Sanford's past, says Clemson University political science professor David Woodard.
"I think it matters," Woodard said in an email. "Sanford has been granted a pardon by a sitting elected official. It helps him get beyond his past mistakes in the eyes of some voters."
"Maybe not enough," Woodard added, "but some voters."
Sanford, who addressed questions about his past Tuesday, admits some people will never forgive him. But as he campaigns for the seat, Sanford said he's been "humbled and overwhelmed" by the reception he's received from most voters.
"It's not like anyone is unaware of what happened, but I've found there is an amazing reservoir of human grace out there that's a reflection of God's grace at large," Sanford said. "I have seen it, I have felt it, and I have dealt with it on a daily basis."
Sanford described Davis as a "dear friend" who stood by him through the years. He also believes Beaufort County's votes could be pivotal in the election. For that reason, he also believes Davis' support will have an impact.
Davis, who was elected in November to a second term in the state Senate, said he's not sure whether the endorsement will help or hurt him politically. He decided to speak out because he believes Sanford is the "best guy for this job, and so that makes supporting him the right thing to do."