Rep. Mark Sanford got more time to explore the Appalachian Trail on Tuesday night when state Rep. Katie Arrington defeated him in the Republican primary for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
Sanford, who conceded defeat hours after the polls closed, lost to Arrington 51-47. Until Tuesday, Sanford had shown a knack for surviving self-inflicted political disaster. However, the former governor only defeated an underfunded state representative 56-44 in the 2016 primary, a sign that he didn't exactly have a solid base of support behind him in this seat that runs along South Carolina’s southern coast, even years after his 2009 sex scandal and 2013 comeback.
Yet despite his near miss, Sanford continued to take risks by criticizing Trump numerous times despite usually voting with him. The congressman didn't seem to really care, musing to Politico as far back as February of last year that he was "a dead man walking. If you've already been dead, you don't fear it as much. I've been dead politically."
Sanford kept digging his grave over the ensuing months, opining that Trump had done "some weird stuff" in office (though he was hardly one to talk) and calling Trump's tariffs "an experiment with stupidity." All of that suited Arrington just fine: She ran ad after ad arguing that the district needed a pro-Trump loyalist like herself. Arrington also didn't shy away from hitting the congressman over his old scandals as she implored voters to turn the page on the Mark Sanford era.
Trump himself tweeted out his support for Arrington three hours before the polls closed, declaring that Sanford was "nothing but trouble" and "better off in Argentina." His endorsement came too late to move the needle in any material way, but Sanford's downfall is going to make congressional Republicans even more unwilling to part with Trump on anything for fear of becoming the next Mark Sanford (minus all that Appalachian Trail stuff, of course).
Sanford also became just the second House member to lose renomination this cycle, following Republican Robert Pittenger in North Carolina, who narrowly went down under rather different circumstances last month. While South Carolina's 1st Congressional District narrowed somewhat at the presidential level in 2016, going from 58-40 Romney to 53-40 Trump, it's very likely to stay red. However, Democrat Joe Cunningham had raised some $527,000 as of the last week of May, not far behind the $583,000 Arrington’s taken in during her campaign.
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