Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admits he “failed mightily” in his personal life, but insisted Tuesday that his political career carries all the proof voters need to send him back to Congress in a special election next month.
The fallen politician is running in a crowded Republican primary to fill a House seat that he once held, from 1995 to 2001. While campaigning on a fiscally conservative record, he also is addressing the famous infidelity that led to his downfall four years ago while he was governor.
“If we live long enough, we’re going to fail at something and I absolutely failed in my personal life and in my marriage, but one place I didn’t ever fail was with the taxpayers,” he told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “If you look at my 20 years in politics, what you’d see is a fairly remarkable consistency in trying to watch out for the taxpayers.”
He touted a fiscally conservative record praised by numerous citizen watchdog groups.
“I could come up with a lot of merit badges that point to one thing, many people talk about our spending problem in Washington, all too few do something about it,” he said.
Sanford was a rising star in the Republican party when he was famously caught lying, telling constituents he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina. He has now engaged to the woman, a television reporter for whom he divorced his former wife.
The affair led to Sanford's censure by state officials and his resignation as head of the Republican Governors Association. It also resulted in an ethics fine because of his use of taxpayer funds, for which Sanford sees no conflict in his current campaign. Instead he describes it similar to the ways businesses settle lawsuits.
“There was no admission of guilt with any of that,” he said. “I did use business class on legitimate business trips. It’s a much longer story.”
Sanford told Guthrie he is humbled by the experience but feels he can move on from it, especially after getting blessings from his children to run again for office. “We all hope for redemption in our lives,” he explained.
“My focus is crystal clear. Is part of the cost of reentering politics a discussion about my personal failure and the consequences thereof? Yes. Is that painful to me and a lot of others that I love? Yes,” he said. “But I keep going back to — we are at a tipping point as a civilization, and if we don’t get our financial house in order, there are going to be unbelievable consequences for the very folks watching our show right now.”
A new television ad for Sanford has him appealing to voters and a "God of second chances," framing his candidacy from the lessons he learned from his downfall.