With nearly all of the vote counted, challenger Katie Arrington leads Rep. Mark Sanford by 4 percentage points (and almost 3,000 votes) in South Carolina’s first congressional district. Sanford has just conceded.
This result is the first defeat of Sanford’s remarkable career. He is the “comeback kid” of South Carolina politics, having survived his affair — part sordid, part comical — with an Argentine woman.
Before that affair was revealed in 2009, Sanford served three terms in Congress and two terms as South Carolina’s governor. Afterwards, in 2013, he somehow won a special election for the first district seat, filling the vacancy left when Tim Scott was appointed to the Senate.
Today, three hours before the polls closed, President Trump came out against Sanford, calling him “nothing but trouble.” Tweeting from the plane bringing him home from Singapore, he declared Sanford “very unhelpful” in advancing his agenda. Trump endorsed Arrington, a first term state legislator. Twisting the knife, Trump stated that Sanford “is better off in Argentina.”
Did Trump’s endorsement swing the race to Arrington? Maybe not, coming as late as it did. But I’m guessing that the endorsement put Arrington over the top. Keep in mind that Arrington didn’t just need to outpoll Sanford. She needed to win a majority of the vote to avoid a run-off.
In the most recent count I’ve seen, Arrington is at 50.5 percent, only about 300 votes clear of a run-off (if my math is correct). It’s easy to believe that Trump influenced enough votes to provide that boost.
In any event, the fact that Sanford has at times been at odds with Trump is what made Arrington such a strong challenger in the first place. So under any reckoning, Stanford is a victim of the Trump effect. In this case, the effect will prove salutary, I believe.