He directed me toward the very end of his photographic timeline. “I’ve always kept those two pictures,” he said.
One is from the tearful, public confession on June 24, 2009, after returning from a five-day assignation in Argentina with a woman who was not the first lady. He originally told his staff and constituents that he “was hiking the Appalachian Trail,” but with news of his affair threatening to break publicly, he was forced to admit that in spite of his image as a happily married man, he “developed a relationship with what started out as a dear, dear friend from Argentina,” Maria Belen Chapur.
In the other photograph, from a couple of days later, he is fleeing a media horde that had by then become “a carnivorous animal,” as Sanford described it to me. “I’ve kept those pictures just as a reminder of a place I’ll never ever want to go back to.”
Sanford is just one of 435 members of the House of Representatives and, in his new role, a junior one at that. But he has managed something that few people have: returning to public office after an embarrassing, nationally televised — Twitterized and blogged — sex scandal. He was one in a succession of promising politicians who spontaneously combusted over the last few years. There was former Senator John Ensign of Nevada (affair with staffer married to another staffer); former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina (affair, love child); former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York (prostitute); and former Representative Anthony Weiner of New York (Twitter sexting with strangers).
Sanford’s successful reboot was at least in part due to the peculiarities of his congressional race. But it was also a result of a slow and sometimes painful dance with his would-be constituents and his colleagues, requiring tremendous political patience and a high threshold for public humiliation. While continuing to try to rebuild his political career, he has had to accept the fact that he needs to start at the bottom both in Washington — where the ground shifted on him with Eric Cantor’s primary loss earlier this month — and in his district. Whether he has truly changed is a question of interest to old friends and enemies alike, as they watch Sanford try to make his way back up the political ladder.
One sunny day in March, I accompanied him as he patiently worked his home turf. He was in the coastal county of Beaufort, S.C., to meet at the Kazoobie Kazoos factory with three members of the local Chamber of Commerce, including Stephen Murray, Kazoobie’s chief executive and the chamber’s chairman. The session started with a tour of the modest manufacturing space, which, Murray told Sanford, was actually the largest kazoo factory in North America, “right here in your district.” Delighted, the former governor exclaimed, “I had no idea.”
In a dimly lit back room of Kazoobie, Sanford sat at a small table with Murray and the other chamber reps along with a man from a community beautification group. Most of the conversation revolved around noise issues, including the impending local test flights of a new F-35 fighter jet, and a request for help financing a flower-planting project along U.S. Route 17. “We don’t know if there’s anything you can do,” said the flower advocate.
“I don’t know either,” Sanford said, keenly interested, or at least faking it well. “But we can find out.”
Sanford was in full campaign mode. Though no one had announced a challenge for his seat when his term ends later this year, he assumed someone would, and he was intently making the rounds — precisely the sort of unglamorous neighborhood glad-handing that Cantor was accused of neglecting after his recent primary loss. Following our visit to Kazoobie, Sanford trotted across the street for a scheduled visit to Earl’s Body Shop to meet the owner, Fred Krumm, a local Republican who once starred in an ad for Sanford’s fellow South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson.
“He really wishes he could be here,” the shop manager, Gary Newman, said apologetically as he took us through a tour of the shop. “He had a funeral he had to attend in Iowa; he would have loved this.”
The scene repeated itself at the Bluffton Oyster Company, where Sanford was to meet Larry Toomer, a Republican who recently won a seat on the Bluffton Town Council, and his wife, Tina. “My husband chose to go to a St. Louis Cardinals game instead of meeting ya,” Tina Toomer informed Sanford when he walked in the door of her seafood market on the May River.
“I’d pick the same,” Sanford said.
But the day also brought its little boosts: the standing ovation Sanford received at the Beaufort County Republican Party’s meeting later in the afternoon; the guy at the Bluffton farmers’ market who shouted from a lawn chair, “You’ve got a great shot, I’ll be voting for you”; or the retired agriculture sales rep Greg Becker, who complimented the former governor on his values: “Low taxes, limited government — isn’t that it?”
At one point, Sanford trotted up to a heavyset man with a goatee who appeared to be suppressing a giggle, though it could have just been a happy buzz from the tequila he was sipping from a red plastic cup. When Sanford asked him what he did for a living, the man explained that he was such a valuable employee for “the fifth largest storage company in the world,” and that “it’s almost like being retired, they don’t care about how many hours I put in.”
“I want a job like that,” Sanford said. “How’d you do that?”
“You had one,” the man said.
“C’mon, you’re killing me!” Sanford said. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
The man mumbled, “Don’t you remember that little thing — you can fool some people some of the time, uh, you know. . . .”
Sanford laughed it off and, after some small talk, politely moved on.
Before his love affair became international news, Sanford, 54, had known nary a setback. “All my life was just ace after ace,” he told me one day in late February as we chatted in his Washington office suite, a tight space at the end of a long hallway.
The eldest son of a heart surgeon, Sanford was handsome, tall and competitive — an Eagle Scout and a high-school track-team captain. He spent the summers sequestered with his younger brothers and sister at Coosaw, where he developed the can’t-lose confidence that carried him into adulthood. “I guess you thought you could accomplish or do things because it wasn’t like you’d compete with people who could outperform you,” he said.
He ran for Congress six years after graduating from business school, with no political contacts, donor network or name recognition. He won on a newly popular promise: to limit his service to six years. As a freshman, he immediately set out to make himself the national face of the blossoming term-limits movement, as well as the nascent campaign to privatize Social Security. He was impatient and self-righteous, and he joined the failed attempt to oust Speaker Newt Gingrich, for supposedly giving up too much on the budget deal that ended the government shutdown in 1996. Later, when Gingrich’s potential successor, Bob Livingston, admitted to an affair, Sanford castigated him: “He lied under a different oath, and that is the oath to his wife.”
At the time, Sanford’s own marriage seemed strong. In 1989 he wed Jenny Sullivan of the Chicago family that co-founded the Skil Corporation, a major toolmaker. She was a beautiful, elegant, magna cum laude graduate of Georgetown University. Like Hillary Clinton, she was her husband’s most trusted adviser; she ran all of Sanford’s campaigns. Unlike Hillary Clinton, she abandoned her career — as a mergers-and-acquisitions vice president at Lazard Frères — to raise their growing family while Sanford traveled back and forth to Washington.
After three terms, Sanford left Capitol Hill and successfully ran for governor, carrying his contempt for others’ failings with him. He was known to be hard on his staff, chewing out aides for small offenses and chastising them for being wasteful; he once told a staffer to use both sides of Post-it notes and insisted that others share rooms with him while traveling.
He trumpeted his frugality and frequently vetoed most items in his own party’s budgets. He once sought to shame his colleagues over their spending by entering the statehouse with two piglets he named Pork and Barrel. Such stunts drew the enmity of his fellow Republicans. But they tapped into the frustration over government spending that was roiling the party ranks.
With presidential speculation growing in early 2009, Sanford refused to accept $700 million in funds from President Obama’s emergency stimulus package. It was a Tea Party sensation, and it moved him up the early lists of Republican prospects for 2012. That June, clearly looking toward a potential national campaign, he invited 300 donors, strategists and select members of the media to Coosaw for what was billed as a weekend of camping, drinking and talking. Guests included Herman Cain; Stephen Moore, then a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board; and the pollster Frank Luntz. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking, This man could be a credible presidential candidate,” Luntz recalled. Within two weeks, Sanford was in Argentina visiting his mistress.
After his affair was exposed, and he also admitted to other, milder dalliances, Sanford endured one indignity after another. The State newspaper printed intimate emails between him and Chapur, and a few nights later Jimmy Fallon used them on his show as lyrics for a karaoke contest for members of the studio audience: “I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light,” went the song.
Later that summer, after Sanford’s bid to save his marriage failed, Jenny Sanford decided to move out of the governor’s mansion with the boys. News cameras captured her and some supportive female friends walking out the front door with armfuls of clothes, creating a public spectacle. At an annual St. Patrick’s Day banquet — one of Charleston’s premier social events, which Sanford attended alone — the band struck up “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita.”
Sometime after Jenny moved out, when Sanford thought he couldn’t get any lower, Nikki Haley, then a little-known state legislator making a long-shot bid for governor, appeared at his office. She settled into his red sofa and took out a manila envelope bearing a Post-it with the word “promises” scrawled on it. It contained a letter with a pledge Sanford made to her several months earlier. While still riding high, he persuaded her to run as his successor by vowing to put the full force of his popularity and fund-raising network behind her.
But now he was no longer able to raise money, and his public embrace was a liability. After his collapse, she was languishing in fourth place with relatively little cash. But according to Sanford and others close to him, she and her advisers had another idea for how to jump-start her campaign. Sanford’s political accounts were still flush, and he says she asked him to devote several hundred thousand dollars to a media campaign supporting her candidacy. He says he initially declined. “My gut is, ‘No, you don’t give somebody that kind of money,’ ” Sanford told me. But, he says, she and a top strategist continued to press. And, no longer certain of his own political instincts, he finally deferred to advisers who said fulfilling the request was the right thing to do, given his inability to deliver the way he said he would.
In May 2010, a month before the primary, a nonprofit group, ReformSC, formed at the start of Sanford’s tenure to promote his policy agenda, began a $400,000 ad campaign promoting Haley as “South Carolina’s new conservative leader.” Quickly, Haley moved into first place. In her book, “Can’t Is Not an Option,” Haley credits those ads with moving her poll numbers but only describes asking Sanford to make phone calls.
As an issues group, ReformSC was limited in its ability to participate directly in political campaigns and was prohibited from coordinating with them. The spot did not technically call for Haley’s election — it focused on her role in championing a bill to end anonymous statehouse voting — but a judge called a temporary halt to the ads after an opponent and some ReformSC donors filed a lawsuit charging that the commercial was a thinly veiled, illegal campaign spot. (Governor Haley’s office sent an email in mid-June emphasizing that the ads were about “a key reform supported by Governor Sanford and then-State Representative Haley.”) Most of the ads had run by then anyway, and Haley soon drew a closing endorsement from Sarah Palin that sealed her victory.
In what is described by friends as the slight that bothered him the most, Haley never personally let Sanford know that she appreciated what he did for her. “She never thanked him,” said John Rainey, a prominent South Carolina businessman and power broker who has been a confidant of Sanford’s since his first run for governor. Not in a written note, not in an email, not verbally, Rainey said. “He’s still upset by it. That’s something you never forget — ingratitude.”
About a year later, the former governor set aside his pride and asked the new governor if she could spare one of her University of South Carolina football season tickets so Sanford’s oldest son could see a game; he also asked if his son and a couple of high-school friends could have an al fresco meal on the grounds of the mansion, his childhood home. Sanford has told friends that her office balked at the ticket and declined to provide a meal.
Sanford’s friends said it stung. “You know, she just didn’t,” said Rainey, who has been in a long-running feud with Haley. (He has called her “the most corrupt person to occupy the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction.” Haley, a Sikh American, has called Rainey a “racist, sexist bigot.”)
Sanford declined to talk to me at length about Haley, but he did say that by the time he left office he could “count the number of real friends I had on one hand.” And that only got worse when he returned to civilian life in Charleston in 2011.
“You’d go to one of the boys’ squad football games, and you’re watching as you’re walking up in the bleachers, and every soccer mom in the place turns their body ever so subtly the other way,” Sanford told me one night in March. “They’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I hope he does not sit down beside me.’ And it just got to the point where, like, I can’t handle it.” So shortly after leaving office, “I retreated and did the hermit number at the farm,” he said.
Sanford’s seclusion in Coosaw lasted a few months. He passed the time building his house, writing a family history and holding Skyped Bible sessions with his sons. He saw Chapur when he could (she was living in Argentina because of family obligations). Slowly, he says, over the course of 2012, he began to regain faith in himself, mostly because others did: A forestry company asked him to join its board; Fox News gave him a contributors’ contract. In a sign that he was moving on, he and Chapur became engaged.
Then one day, Jim DeMint vacated his Senate seat to run the Heritage Foundation. Governor Haley tapped Representative Tim Scott to serve out DeMint’s term, requiring a special election to fill Scott’s seat, which happened to have been the one Sanford originally held. Sanford’s friends began trying to persuade him to run, believing, as Rainey put it, that the opportunity was “an act of God, whatever you want to call it; it wasn’t the third district or the second district, it was his district.”
Sanford at first demurred, convinced that his political career was over for good. “I was spent rocket fuel,” he says. But his friends continued to press him. “If we don’t believe in second chances, then that’s an affront to our maker,” Rainey told him. Cubby Culbertson, an old friend whom Sanford calls a “spiritual guide” and who tried to help Sanford save his marriage, had been trying since Sanford’s affair was exposed to persuade him that he could still have a future in public service. He had enlisted Chuck Colson, the convicted Watergate dirty trickster, who rehabilitated himself by becoming an advocate for prison reform, to convince Sanford he could come back. (Colson died in 2012.) According to Culbertson, Colson told Sanford during a three-way conference call: “You’ve fallen, and I know you are devastated. But you got a choice now. . . . Are you going to do it God’s way? ‘Cause you can do it God’s way, and it’s amazing how God will use you.”
Sanford eventually decided to run. “At first you’re like, ‘Thanks, but no thanks, I’ve been through the fire, and I have no interest in rekindling those flames,’ ” he said. “But eventually enough of those calls came in that I said, ‘O.K., I’ll give it a try.’ ”
It would strain his old relationship as well as his new one. Jenny Sanford made it clear that she resented his return to public life, asking him, “How could you do this to your children?” And his campaign advisers concluded that he would need to keep Chapur at a distance — voters might accept him for his sins, but they would not be as quick to embrace his new life with the woman who broke up his marriage. But on the night of April 2, 2013, when Sanford, the best-known candidate of the 16 who ran, won the Republican nomination, Chapur surprised him by showing up at his victory rally. It was a public relations disaster. Jenny Sanford told The Washington Post it was the first time her 17-year-old son, Bolton, met Chapur and that it left him shaken.
Five weeks later, Sanford faced off against his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch (Stephen Colbert’s sister). He won handily.
When Sanford returned to Congress last spring, many colleagues were less than thrilled to have him. Sanford wasn’t surprised that there was skepticism from his Democratic peers. “I hope he’s changed,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a ranking Democrat. “Because I find him to be very, very disingenuous.” But Sanford quickly discovered that those in his own party were suspicious as well. Word trickled back to him that many committee chairmen did not want him on their panels, concerned that he would bring a carnival-like atmosphere or, worse, return to his old rabble-rousing ways. “Everybody thought I was going to be like nitroglycerin in terms of media attention,” Sanford said in February.
Because Sanford had returned to Congress through a special election, he was not guaranteed the seniority he accrued from his early years there. The House speaker, John Boehner — who was friendly with Sanford two decades earlier — intervened. “He went around to a number of them who were, you know, antsy about me coming back, and maybe some of them didn’t think it was such a good idea to say, ‘He may have gotten off on a sidetrack or whatever, but he’s a good guy,’ ” Sanford said. “I am personally indebted to him for those conversations.”
Sanford wound up as a lower-ranking member of the Transportation and Homeland Security committees. When he arrived, the congressional Tea Party rebellion was well underway. And, as an enthusiastic renegade nearly 20 years earlier, Sanford could have easily joined it. But he decided instead to prove useful where he could to Boehner and Boehner’s second in command and expected successor, Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor initially had misgivings about Sanford but came to appreciate the new, less confrontational version of him. And Sanford came to appreciate what Cantor might ultimately do for him. Now, despite Cantor’s loss in the primary earlier this month to the more strident conservative David Brat, Sanford says he’ll stick to his plan and work with the leadership when possible.
His approach was on display in April, during the lead-up to a vote on the Paul Ryan budget — the usual mix of tax and entitlement cuts. Sanford didn’t berate the Democrats for their fiscal irresponsibility or join a rump group of Republicans who believed Ryan wasn’t going far enough, as he once might have. Instead, he sat with me in a committee room awaiting a vote of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on transparency in airline pricing. “I think you can surmise this is probably not my first love,” he said.
After the budget vote passed along partisan lines, I asked Ryan, who was a waiter at Tortilla Coast around the time Sanford was one of the leading young budget scolds, how Sanford had been upon his return. “He’s just kept his nose down and worked hard and just kind of kept quiet and focused on doing his job,” Ryan said with condescending approval.
As we spoke, Ryan’s colleagues trotted to camera positions to make partisan hay of the bill. Sanford went straight to his office.
Later that afternoon, Sanford was in a celebratory mood. The filing deadline for challengers to his congressional seat passed, and there were no takers; he was all but assured three more years. Chapur, who had been traveling back and forth between Argentina and the United States — where she spent time with Sanford and her son, who was living in New York — was in town. For most of the year, Sanford and Chapur had been keeping largely to themselves. She had yet to agree to be interviewed by an American journalist, and whether Sanford was going to let me meet her had been an open question. But on that April evening, Sanford decided that he and Chapur would make the rounds in Washington, and he invited me along.
Their first stop was a cocktail party for the Fourth Annual Turkic American Convention. Chapur, who writes a weekly international affairs column for the Argentine website Infobae, had developed an interest in Turkey, and Sanford said he thought she’d get a kick out of going.
When he arrived, the organizers asked him to make some impromptu remarks. Shortly after taking the lectern, he said, “If I might just call on my fiancée to step up here very quickly, and just to put her on the spot.” Chapur made her way to the microphone, surprised and slightly embarrassed. At the lectern, she said shyly: “I also come from an emerging country, we are trying to make our way, and I hope we all sustain our democracies, which is the most important thing in our countries to continue to be successful.” The audience applauded politely, and 15 minutes later we were back in the car. Chapur was partly elated and partly overwrought. “I’m going to kill you,” she told Sanford. “When you started looking at me I was, ‘What is he going to do?’ My heart is still . . . unbelievable!”
We drove downtown and arrived at an awards dinner for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership at the Decatur House, near the White House. In the middle of mingling, Sanford noticed Chapur and me talking a few feet away. He walked over and prompted me to ask her about a campaign stop she made with him in South Carolina the weekend before and then left us to ourselves.
Chapur, an energetic and expressive conversationalist, told me about being at a parade with Sanford near Charleston: “We spent like three hours there. It was beautiful, and the people were really, really spectacular. I was amazed by the way they were receiving me and how much they love him. For me, it was like, wow, after so much suffering . . . it’s like things are starting to come.”
Chapur went on to describe the painful and lonely four years after their affair was revealed. “We were well aware that we started in the wrong way, so it was like an inflicted punishment to say, ‘O.K., this was not good,’ ” she said. “If we have to keep apart while the pain is in everyone, we need to do it.” The dinner organizers were asking the guests to go to their tables — at which point I was to leave — but Chapur was not through.
“I mean, Mark felt terrible during all these years, because he felt he betrayed the people who trusted him, so he started to think: ‘O.K., I love this woman. But I hurt a lot of people. So, how do I mend this?’ ” she said.
She said she saw it as her duty to keep quiet throughout, even when the press wanted her to respond to harsh comments Jenny Sanford made about Chapur in her 2010 book, “Staying True.” “They were calling me to come onto the show, and I said: ‘I respect her, she’s the wife, she needs to talk and say whatever. I have to pay, and I won’t say a word against her because she’s in the right,’ ” she said. “It was difficult, and I am not a bad person, so it was very hard thinking that the whole world. . . .”
Chapur eventually came back around to the parade. “So, watching that was really — O.K., all the pain we all went through is worth it because people realize that it was a love story at the end of the day.”
If so, it is still being written. Sanford and Chapur indicated that the stress of their unusual courtship, and the political, personal and public pressures that have come to bear upon them as a couple, have impeded their transition into a normal, domestic life together. Even now, their plans seem unclear, as does Sanford’s political future.
He expected that his all-but-certain re-election would mean that in January, the seniority he earned during his six-year stint of the ‘90s would kick in. Sanford was hoping he had built enough good will with Boehner and other leaders to earn better committee assignments. He seemed a bit fazed by Cantor’s loss, given the effort he made to build a solid relationship with him. He would just have to start over with Kevin McCarthy, Cantor’s successor.
“I’m still trying to find the niche where you can have real effect,” he told me earlier that day. “I don’t want to lay out all my cards.”Continue reading the main story
An article on June 29 about the former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford misidentified the highway in the state for which a flower-planting project was being planned. It is U.S. 17, not Route I-17.
Read our 2017 Report Card for Sanford.
Sanford is shown as a purple triangle ▲ in our ideology-leadership chart below. Each dot is a member of the House of Representatives positioned according to our liberal–conservative ideology score (left to right) and our leadership score (leaders are toward the top).
The chart is based on the bills Sanford has sponsored and cosponsored. See full analysis methodology.
Ratings from Advocacy Organizations
Marshall “Mark” Sanford sits on the following committees:
- House Committee on the Budget
- House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
- House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Sanford sponsors bills primarily in these issue areas:
Economics and Public Finance (26%)International Affairs (16%)Transportation and Public Works (16%)Energy (11%)Armed Forces and National Security (11%)Public Lands and Natural Resources (11%)Taxation (11%)
Some of Sanford’s most recently sponsored bills include...
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|Sanford’s Vote||Vote Description|
|Nay||H.R. 1039: Probation Officer Protection Act of 2017|
May 19, 2017. Passed 229/177.
H.R. 1039 amends the federal criminal code to authorize a probation officer to arrest a person, without warrant, if there is probable cause to believe that person forcibly assaulted or obstructed a probation officer while performing their official duties. The bill also would direct the ...
|Aye||S. 612: A bill to designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 1300 Victoria Street in Laredo, Texas, as the “George P. Kazen Federal Building ...|
Dec 8, 2016. Passed 360/61.
|No||H.R. 3038: Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, Part II|
Jul 15, 2015. Passed 312/119.
|Aye||H.R. 2146: Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act|
Jun 18, 2015. Passed 218/208.
This vote made H.R. 2146 the vehicle for passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal currently being negotiated. H.R. 2146 was originally introduced as a bill to address issues with retirement funds of federal law enforcement officers and firefighters. ...
|Nay||H.R. 2048: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2015|
May 13, 2015. Passed 338/88.
The USA Freedom Act (H.R. 2048, Pub.L. 114–23) is a U.S. law enacted on June 2, 2015 that restored in modified form several provisions of the Patriot Act, which had expired the day before. The act imposes some new limits on the bulk collection of ...
|Nay||H.R. 83 (113th): Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015|
Dec 11, 2014. Passed 219/206.
This bill became the vehicle for passage of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 [pdf], which was approved by the House on December 11, 2014 and by the Senate on December 13, 2014. The bill was originally introduced on January 3, 2013 by ...
|Nay||H.R. 4681 (113th): Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015|
Dec 10, 2014. Passed 325/100.
|No||H.J.Res. 124 (113th): Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2015|
Sep 17, 2014. Passed 319/108.
|Nay||S. 1603 (113th): Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act|
Sep 16, 2014. Passed 359/64.
|Nay||H.R. 3393 (113th): Student and Family Tax Simplification Act|
Jul 24, 2014. Passed 227/187.
From Jan 1995 to Mar 2018, Sanford missed 142 of 6,934 roll call votes, which is 2.0%. This is on par with the median of 2.3% among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving. The chart below reports missed votes over time.
Show the numbers...
|Time Period||Votes Eligible||Missed Votes||Percent||Percentile|
The information on this page is originally sourced from a variety of materials, including:
Marshall “Mark” Sanford is pronounced:
MAR-shuhl // SAN-furd
The letters stand for sounds according to the following table:
|Letter||Sounds As In|
Capital letters indicate a stressed syllable.