Mark Sanford Asked Ex-Wife To Run His Congressional Campaign

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 4 2013 11:00 AM

Why Mark Sanford Wanted His Ex-Wife To Run His Comeback Campaign

Mark Sanford has the name recognition to win the South Carolina race, but there's one woman who could still sink his campaign

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jason Zengerle has a long profile of ex-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in the latest edition of New York magazine that's worth a read for anyone fascinated by the Republican's return to politics less than four years after he became a national punchline thanks to his time "hiking" the Appalachian trail. But the nugget that's making the most headlines this morning is that the Republican asked his ex-wife Jenny to be his campaign manager late last year when he was laying the groundwork for his bid to fill Rep. Tim Scott's old House seat:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

When [Mark] first ran for Congress in 1994, he installed Jenny as his campaign manager. He did this for reasons of economy—"You’re free," he told her at the time—but she proved a natural at the job. She blossomed into a shrewd political strategist, running Mark’s subsequent campaigns and becoming his top adviser. Will Folks, a former Sanford press secretary, says, "There’s absolutely no way he would have ever won the congressional seat or been governor without her."  ...
So when Mark came to visit her, he arrived with a proposal. "Since you’re not running, I want to know if you’ll run my campaign," he said. "We could put the team back together." Jenny told him, in so many words, that wasn’t going to happen.

But as interesting as that personal tidbit may be—it suggests either that Jenny Sanford is a more forgiving person than most, or that Mark Sanford still hasn't figured out how personal relationships work—it's not at all surprising on a political level. While Jenny's past successes running her then-husband's campaigns may be the official reason the ex-governor and his friends are giving for the offer, there'd have also clearly been a more obvious benefit of having her fill that role: namely, her automatic endorsement of his campaign, something that would no doubt go a long way toward winning over those South Carolinians still skeptical of a man who left his wife and children at home to carry on an affair in a foreign country:

There is really only one person who poses a serious threat to Sanford’s campaign. "Clearly Jenny has the ability to determine whether Mark wins or loses this race," says one Sanford associate, who spells out two scenarios. "If Jenny went out there and said, ‘This man caused me humiliation, he put me through emotional hell, but we’re all human, I think he’s genuinely sorry for what happened, and there’s nobody in this field who’d make a bigger difference in Washington,’ then he’d win hands down." Conversely, the associate posits, "If she said what hasn’t been told is just how cruel he is and how self-centered he is, and how he knew this was going to cause pain to me and the kids and it didn’t matter to him, she’d automatically sink his campaign."

Despite Sanford's embarrassing past, his strong name recognition and conservative resume have made him the early front-runner to earn the GOP nomination for the seat, setting up a likely general election match-up with Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. While Colbert-Busch has her own advantages—namely the fundraising machine that is her brother, Stephen—she'd face an uphill battle in a dark red South Carolina district that favors whichever candidate Republican primary voters put forward. You can read the full piece here.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.