Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford faced his 2009 admission of infidelity head on Thursday evening in a debate with former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic, who said that Sanford’s history could cost Republicans the election.
The two Republicans are in a runoff to become the Republican nominee in the race for the 1st Congressional District seat. The seat was vacated by former Rep. Tim Scott when he was appointed to replace Sen. Jim DeMint, who retired to become president of the Heritage Foundation.
Sanford and Bostic were the two top vote-getters in a 16-person primary. The winner of Tuesday’s runoff election will face Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.
It was an overwhelmingly cordial debate, with both candidates maintaining a friendly tone and a smile as they lobbed attacks at one another.
Sanford’s final two years as governor were overshadowed by a scandal that arose in 2009 when he left the state for seven days and confessed upon his return that he had been having an affair with an Argentinean woman, who is now his fiancé. This race is his first return to the political arena since then, and it has been a much-discussed subject throughout this campaign.
Thursday night was no different.
“Gov. Sanford, it is, to use the term, the elephant in the room. In 2009, you broke the trust of the people of South Carolina,” said the moderator. “How do you reconcile redemption with the mistrust in the personal decision which could or may have compromised the state and the party?”
Sanford called it an “important question, and one that I suspect one that I’ll wrestle at one level or another with for the rest of my life.”
“I failed,” he said. “And I failed very publicly.”
“What I would say is the events of 2009 absolutely represent a failure on my part for which there were and always will be at some level consequences. But that does not mean that because you’ve had a failure on your personal life, that you cannot step back into life again,” Sanford said.
He said that when the seat opened up, “all of sudden my phone lines light up with a lot of people saying, ‘Mark you need to do this.’ And at first you’re scared to death, you don’t know how you’d be received if you were to step back into the waters. But people kept calling, and they kept calling and they said, ‘Mark, you need to do this, because here’s a chance for you to learn not only from your experience in Congress and the governorship, but more significantly from what you learned on the way up and the way down and apply it to what is arguably one of the great conundrums of our civilization, which is how do we get our fiscal house in order.’ And should I make it, that’s what I intend to do.”