Appalachian Trail to Comeback Trail?

So one of the most thoroughly disgraced and humiliated pols of our era (at least among those who have not worn the orange jumpsuit), Mark Sanford, has won the Republican nomination to return to his old gig representing South Carolina’s 1st district in Congress.

He beat former Charleston city councilman Curtis Bostic by a comfortable 57-43 margin in a very low-turnout special runoff election. The results pretty closely resembled the 53-40 margin shown for Sanford in last week’s Public Policy Polling survey of the district, but still seemed to surprise a lot of observers expecting a Bostic win.

If indeed PPP has a good handle on the district and the shape of the special electorate, Sanford still has an uphill climb to the May 7 general election in which he will face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. PPP showed Busch leading Sanford 47-45 thanks to the latter’s horrible 34/58 approval/disapproval ratio and some effective early advertising by the former.

Given the solidly Republican nature of the 1st district (it has a Cook Political Report PVI of R+11, which means it’s eleven points more Republican than the country as a whole), and the typical GOP advantage everywhere in special elections (sort of a super-midterm, where the old and the white show up when no one else does), Sanford’s task now is pretty obvious: run a “Republican unity” campaign that seeks maximum partisan and ideological polarization against Busch. That means getting every popular Republican in sight–local favorites like Sen. Tim Scott, Sanford’s former protege Gov. Nikki Haley, and maybe former Sen. Jim DeMint–to thump the tubs for him, along with national Republican stars, particularly those 2016 possibles who’d love to get some early exposure in a crucial primary state.

But nothing would help Sanford more than to get his ex-wife, Jenny, out there with at least one strong statement suggesting the need to unite to destroy the godless baby-killing looters of the Democratic Party trumps her hurt feelings over Mark’s perfidy. It’s often forgotten that Mark and Jenny once led the most hard-core right-wing faction of the SC GOP; they are “movement conservatives,” so it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for Jenny to place the “movement” first.

If that’s the correct scenario for Sanford, however, you have to wonder what he was thinking by showing off his fiancee, the famous Argentinian “soul mate” Maria Belen Chapur, at his victory celebration last night. He had kept her out of the state (and presumably the country) up until now. Why suddenly remind everyone of the fiasco that drove him from office and made the Palmetto State a figure of great fun for weeks and months? Why rub his politically crucial ex-wife’s nose in his spurning and humiliation of her–his smarter, richer partner in politics and in life–to pursue a younger woman?

I dunno if Sanford is just very confident, or already knows what Jenny will or won’t do for him. But there were probably cheers in Busch’s camp when Chapur showed up last night by Sanford’s side.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.