Will Mark Sanford's trespassing charge sink his political comeback?

Sanford's ex-wife has accused him of sneaking into her house, according to new documents

Mark Sanford may be his own worst enemy.
(Image credit: Stephen Morton/ZUMA Press/Corbis)

The special election for South Carolina's open House seat is, in some ways, a test of what voters will forgive. The district is a solidly Republican one, and local Republicans picked former Gov. Mark Sanford (R) — who already held the seat for three terms in the 1990s — as their candidate against political novice Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, a successful businesswoman who's better known nationally as the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.

The biggest obstacle to Sanford's election is his own history — while governor, he secretly fled his state for South America to meet up with his Argentine mistress, now his fiancée, all while telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail by himself. Now voters will have another alleged transgression to weigh: The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that two days after the upcoming election, Sanford is due in court over his ex-wife's claim she caught him trespassing in her home.

The details of the incident don't make it sound any better. Here's the AP's Bruce Smith:

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The complaint says Jenny Sanford confronted Sanford leaving her Sullivans Island home on Feb. 3 by a rear door, using his cell phone for a flashlight. Her attorney filed the complaint the next day and Jenny Sanford confirmed Tuesday the documents are authentic. The couple's 2010 divorce settlement says neither may enter the other's home without permission. [AP]

And according to the court document, this wasn't Sanford's first trespass, either. The former governor has "entered into a pattern of entering onto plaintiff's property," the complaint says. "Plaintiff has informed defendant on a number of occasions that this behavior is in violation of the court's order and has demanded that it not occur again."

Although Jenny Sanford confirmed that the documents are real, she also said she thought they would be kept sealed, like the records from their 2010 divorce. "I am doing my best not to get in the way of his race," she tells the AP. "I want him to sink or swim on his own. For the sake of my children I'm trying my best not to get in the way, but he makes things difficult for me when he does things like trespassing."

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And, of course, Republicans are less than happy with the turn of events.

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Don't say GOP voters weren't warned about the likelihood of "Sanford's campaign imploding on itself," says Erika Johnsen at Hot Air. "Shaking my head. So much."

Pro tip: When you are about to run in a special election in which you are trying to stage a recovery from a mind-boggling display of poor judgment, avoid further displays of poor judgment at all costs. We already knew that the Colbert Busch camp was going to be hammering Team Sanford on everything that was wrong with the "Appalachian Trail"-governorship debacle, but something like this might provide further ammunition for that line of attack. [Hot Air]

The case "is sure to throw a wrench into a race where Sanford is widely seen as a favorite," says Schuyler Kropf in the Charleston Post and Courier. In particular, "the female vote could sway events if Sanford's conduct becomes an issue."

College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart said the allegation, if true, could definitely sway voters. Sanford, she said, has played up being humble in his return, but that becoming a rule-breaker with an "above-it-all" mentality will go toward reinforcing for many that a lot of "the concerns the voters had (when Sanford left office) were valid." She added that there are legitimate studies of some politicians showing that they seek out rule-breaking tendencies as part of the rush that goes with elective office. [The Post and Courier]

Whether or not this sinks his campaign, though, the fact that he allegedly broke into his ex-wife's house using his cell phone as a flashlight will provide a lift to political humorists:

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