Mark Sanford Is Apologizing His Way to Congress

The former governor of South Carolina, who briefly disappeared in June 2009 to carry on an extramarital affair in Argentina, wants you to know he's sorry. Will that be enough to win?

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Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who briefly disappeared in June 2009 to hike the Appalachian trail carry on an extramarital affair in Argentina, is running for Congress. But first, he wants you to know that he's sorry — that's the overriding message of both his Tuesday appearance on the Today Show and his first campaign ad, which began airing over the weekend. But will contrition be enough to win? "I’ve experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes," Sanford announced in the ad, which touts his commitment to fiscal discipline, "but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it." Here's the spot:

His Today interview continued on the same theme. Speaking to co-host Savannah Guthrie, Sanford argued that, "If we live long enough we're going to fail at something. I absolutely failed in my personal life and my marriage. But one place I didn't ever fail was with the taxpayers." After some pushback from Guthrie — who brought up his taxpayer-funded trip to Argentina — he went on to sell himself as the one politician who can save the country from fiscal doom: "We are at a tipping point as a civilization. If we don't get our financial house in order, there will be unbelievable consequences to the folks watching this show right now." Here's the full interview:

Sanford's strategy here is familiar — Peter Russo in House of Cards, Bill Clinton in general, probably Anthony Weiner in the future  — in that Sanford wants to leverage his affair as a struggle from which he emerged a stronger person and public servant. Or, as Michelle Cottle at The Daily Beast put it, "He is now testifying that not only have his sins been forgiven, but that those transgressions and the spiritual journey they compelled are actually political selling points."

That's a keen strategy for a disgraced man who thinks himself the unique savior of America's ongoing fiscal debate. But Sanford is entering a crowded field of challengers from his own party — sixteen at last count — and may very well face an instantly recognizable opponent like Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, a.k.a. Stephen Colbert's sister. None of these opponents enjoy the same instant name recognition of Sanford, of course, but none of their names are stained with a scandal.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.