Mark Sanford’s road to redemption has been long and winding.
Knocked out of politics by his “Appalachian Trail” scandal in 2009, debased as the nation’s top political pariah, the former governor is attempting a nearly inconceivable comeback–to retake the House seat he held in the 1990s.
Today, voters will choose between Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, but only after a series of weird events that have kept Sanford’s comeback campaign interesting, to say the least–at times making it seem like he can’t catch a break, at others sparking criticism that he just can’t to anything right, and sometimes giving the First Congressional District special election a wacky, circus feel.
Here’s what’s been weird about the most intensely covered race since November:
1. Tim Scott’s Place in History. This isn’t weird, but it is notable: Sanford’s comeback began when the Senate gained its first black member from the South since Reconstruction. When Sen. Jim DeMint left the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, opening up his Senate seat, Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott to replace him. Scott, an African American conservative who entered Congress in the 2010 wave, became the first black senator from a Southern state since the 1900s. Sanford and Colbert Busch are now vying to replace him in the House.
2. Asking Jenny Sanford to Run His Campaign. That happened. Despite his highly publicized affair, and despite their divorce, Mark Sanford asked his ex-wife, Jenny, if she wanted to manage his campaign, as she had done in the past. “I want to know if you’ll run my campaign,” Sanford reportedly asked his ex-wife, according to New York Magazine. “We could put the team back together.” Jenny Sanford said no. Sanford’s campaign has not denied the story.
3. The Fiance at the Victory Party. As Sanford campaigned for his redemption, a question floated around the race: What about his former mistress, now fiance, Maria Belen Chapur? What role, if any, would she play in the campaign? Well, Chapur made her debut at Sanford’s primary victory party, standing behind him as he delivered his speech. Sanford would later say that she surprised him by attending. Jenny Sanford would later say that it was the first time their 17-year-old son had met Chapur. Two of their sons attended the party, and Jenny Sanford texted to The Washington Post: “That was indeed Bolton’s first intro and both boys were quite upset and visibly so.”
4. Trespassing Allegations. In mid-April, court documents surfaced, and ABC News and other outlets reported for the first time, that Jenny Sanford had accused her ex-husband in February of trespassing at her house. Sanford issued a statement that he had gone to the house to watch the Super Bowl with his son, whom he didn’t think should have to watch the game alone. Jenny Sanford recounted finding him leaving her house through the back door, using his cell phone as a flashlight. The allegations prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to disown Sanford’s candidacy. Win or lose, Sanford will have to appear in court on Wednesday to explain himself to a judge.
5. Debating a Cardboard “Pelosi.” Sanford has made House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a major theme in his campaign against Colbert Busch. Outside groups have spent over $1.1 million in South Carolina’s First District, almost all of it attacking Sanford, and in turn, he has sought to highlight Colbert Busch’s backing from national Democratic groups and figures likely too liberal for the taste of Charleston-area voters. To that end, Sanford staged a mock “debate” against a life-sized, cardboard image of Pelosi. On top of the weird optics, Sanford’s Pelosi focus lent the campaign a throwback feel, reminiscent of GOP House campaigns in 2010, when candidates railed against the Democratic House majority.
6. Larry Flynt’s Endorsement. Sanford earned the sarcastic endorsement of porn king Larry Flynt, who called Sanford “America’s great sex pioneer” and thanked Sanford for exposing “sexual hypocrisy of traditional values in America today.”
7. The Debate: “I Couldn’t Hear What She Said.” Sanford and Colbert Busch debated before a raucous crowd at the Citadel on April 29. Colbert Busch made direct reference to Sanford’s affair scandal, telling him sternly, “When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayer, it doesn’t mean you take that money we save and leave the country for a personal purpose.” Sanford’s response? That he couldn’t hear her. “I couldn’t hear what she said,” Sanford replied. “Repeat it, I didn’t hear that. I’m sorry.”
8. Trying to Find a Woman Who Hates Him. Attempting to disprove the notion that his affair turned female voters against him, and that their opposition will cost him the race, Sanford led an NBC reporter and camera around the streets of Charleston looking for “a woman who hates me.” He didn’t find one, exactly.