Mark Sanford’s ‘Ping-Pong Match’

Photograph by Bruce Smith/AP Photo

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford addresses supporters in Charleston, S.C., on March 19, 2013, after advancing to the GOP primary runoff in a race for a vacant South Carolina congressional seat.

Updated at 5:25 pm EDT

Mark Sanford played “a ping-pong match” in his gut.

He won, deciding to go for an open congressional seat after bowing out of public life a few years back following an extramarital affair that coined a new term in the annals of political scandal: Appalachian Trail.

And now he has won his party’s nomination. The special election is May 7.

The former governor of South Carolina and former congressman once considered a possible presidential contender within his party, whose state Capitol office initially told the press in 2009 that he had gone hiking in the mountains when he was away with an Argentine mistress, says opportunities for redemption such as this seat don’t come along often. “Once in every 1,000 years,” he joked today, a South Carolina senator retires, and when Jim DeMint did that, opening his seat and then the seat of Rep. Tim Scott, the Republican congressman appointed to replace him, he saw that opportunity.

He went through, “to be honest with you, a whole lot of fear and trepidation just in human terms before you hop into this particular frying pan,” he said the morning after his runoff victory in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Friends such as former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, a college-mate, called on him to make this race. “You do a whole lot of soul-searching, you have a ping-pong match in your gut for a couple weeks there, and you are fearful, you are frightened, you don’t know how you’re going to be received, but ultimately you make a decision.” He asked his sons, he said, and they encouraged him to go for it, “and off to the races we went.”

On the question of public forgiveness: “At some level, any opponent to any idea I happen to espouse will always be able to hit me with `Appalachian Trail’ or whatever. But I go back to a sermon that was given at our church two weeks ago. The preacher focused in on, ‘Do the events of your life define or refine your life?’… We all have events that we regret, that we mishandled… Some people, you know, may never forgive me for that, and some people it may take a little longer… None of us are perfect, we all have feet of clay.”

The Argentine, now the divorced Sanford’s fiancee, stood beside him at last night’s victory rally.

Sanford told CNN today that  he was “completely” surprised when Maria Belen Chapur showed up.

A Democrat has not held the seat that the former congressman is seeking again for about 40 years, he notes. His opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, is citing internal polling that shows she can win. Yet she “has not held office,” Sanford said, and for now may be enjoying the benefits of name recognition. “Right now, the one thing that people know about her is, is that she’s Stephen Colbert’s sister. Well, at the end of the day, Stephen Colbert is a very popular, well-regarded comedian, but at the end of the day, he’s not on the ticket.”


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