Columbia, S.C. — Trailing in the Republican congressional primary to an opponent supported in last-minute tweets by President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford told supporters in South Carolina on Tuesday night: “I’m going to lose this race.”
Results were still coming in as he made the comments in suburban Charleston. With much of the vote counted, state Rep. Katie Arrington was on the cusp of winning outright. But as Sanford spoke, the race was still too close to call.
Arrington says Sanford criticized Trump too much, calling him a “Never Trumper.” One of her ads said “it’s time for Mark Sanford to take a hike — for real this time.” That refers to 2009, when Sanford’s aides said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he actually visited a woman with whom he was having an affair in Argentina.
Sanford has never lost an election in South Carolina, including two terms in the U.S. House after the affair surfaced.
Throughout his political career, Sanford has played up his outsider credentials — both in the U.S. House, where he supported a box to check on federal tax returns to put $3 toward the national debt, and as governor, bringing a pair of squealing pigs to the state House and Senate chamber to protest what he call pork spending.
But Arrington, who works for a defense contractor, has been able to exploit that trait, pointing out Sanford’s call for Trump to release his tax returns, his vote against Trump’s border wall proposal, and his calling proposed tariffs on alumni and steel “an experiment with stupidity.”
Sanford responded that he speaks his mind regardless of party and said he has shown over two decades he is a true conservative. In his remarks Tuesday night, he said: “I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”
In a surprise Twitter post less than three hours before polls closed, Trump criticized Sanford for his lack of support and took a swipe at his affair.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina,” the president wrote. “I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!”
Sanford is a second U.S. House member from the South attacked by a challenger for criticizing Trump. In Alabama, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is in a July 17 runoff against former congressman Bobby Bright. Roby said two years ago that Trump’s 2005 lewd comments about women, captured on an “Access Hollywood” microphone, made him “unacceptable as a candidate for president.”
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