Why the GOP abandoned Mark Sanford

The NRCC pulls its funding after Sanford's ex-wife accuses him of trespassing at her home

The National Republican Congressional Committee is withdrawing its support from Mark Sanford's senatorial campaign.
(Image credit: JOSHUA DRAKE/Reuters/Corbis)

Don't call it a comeback. Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, has had a rough couple of days. First he was accused of trespassing at the home of his ex-wife Jenny Sanford. Now comes news that the National Republican Congressional Committee is pulling its support for his campaign to represent South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, just weeks before a May 7 special election against Elizabeth Colbert Busch (who just happens to be comedian Stephen Colbert's sister).

According to the AP, his ex-wife "confronted Sanford leaving her Sullivans Island home on Feb. 3 by a rear door, using his cell phone for a flashlight." What was he doing lurking in the dark? He just wanted to watch the Super Bowl with his son, according to an official statement:

I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone. Given she was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cell phone when she returned and told her what had happened. [ABCNews.com]

Super Bowl or not, the NRCC decided to get out while it still could. Andrea Bozek, the group's spokesperson, put a positive spin on the situation by saying, "Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections. At this time, the NRCC will not be engaged in this special election."

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A source within the NRCC told MSNBC.com that it "was completely blindsided by the Sanford news and were incredibly upset not just over the incident but by the lack of advance warning."

Supporting Sanford was already a dicey proposition considering that he left the governor's mansion in South Carolina because of an extramarital scandal, which started when he disappeared for five days to visit his mistress (and soon-to-be wife) Maria Belen Chapur in Argentina. The latest news has only bolstered his critics' arguments that Sanford never should have run in the first place. "He's disgraced himself and embarrassed his supporters," writes Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post.

While the NRCC hasn't spent that much on Sanford, it was considering making a last push with millions more, according to Politico.

The National Journal's Sarah Mimms writes that this is a "sign that the party isn't interested in attaching itself to another candidate who could do the party real harm with female voters." Sanford, unsurprisingly, doesn't poll well with women, a weakness that Colbert Busch is trying to capitalize on with TV ads noting that she is a single mom with three children.

"The reason this is bad is because it takes all of Sanford's problems in the past and takes them right into the present," an unnamed GOP official told Politico. "Every dollar that he’s spent reforming his image has been wiped away."

He didn't help his cause by appearing in public with Chapur at a campaign event on April 2, which was the first time his former mistress had met his two sons. Jenny Sanford told The Washington Post today that Chapur's surprise appearance made both her sons "quite upset and visibly so."

The latest polls have Colbert Busch running just ahead of Sanford but within the margin of error, 47 percent to 44 percent.

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