Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said his extramarital affair, which destroyed his marriage and torpedoed his political career in 2009, should not prevent voters from sending him back to Congress in March.
“If we live long enough, we’re going to fail at something, and I absolutely failed in my personal life and in my marriage," Sanford said in an interview on the "Today" show on Tuesday. "But one place I didn’t ever fail was with the taxpayers."
Sanford, once a rising star of the Republican Party, is running in a special election to fill the congressional seat he held from 1995 to 2001. The post was vacated by Rep. Tim Scott, who was appointed to replace Sen. Jim DeMint after DeMint resigned to head up the Heritage Foundation.
“If you look at my 20 years in politics, what you’d see is a fairly remarkable consistency in trying to watch out for the taxpayers," Sanford, 52, said on "Today."
In 2009, Sanford told constituents he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really in Argentina visiting his mistress—a woman to whom he's now engaged.
A teary-eyed Sanford had admitted the affair and was subsequently censured by state officials, fined for using taxpayer funds and forced to resign as the head of the Republican Governors Association. (According to The New York Times, Sanford had paid $74,000 "to settle charges that his personal travel and campaign spending violated state ethics laws, but he continued to deny wrongdoing.")
“There was no admission of guilt with any of that,” Sanford said on Tuesday. “I did use business class on legitimate business trips. It’s a much longer story.”
Sanford, who completed his gubernatorial term in 2011, told "Today" that his children encouraged him to run: “I sat down with the boys. We had a conversation. I said, ‘What do you want me to do? If you don’t want me to do it, I’m out.’ Their point is, ‘No, dad, you’ve long cared about this stuff. You ought to do it.’”
In the March 19 primary, Sanford faces a slew of other candidates, including Teddy Turner, the unlikely conservative son of liberal media mogul Ted Turner.
“My focus is crystal clear," Sanford said. "Is part of the cost of re-entering politics a discussion about my personal failure and the consequences thereof? Yes. Is that painful to me and a lot of others that I love? Yes. But I keep going back to ... we are at a tipping point as a civilization, and if we don’t get our financial house in order, there are going to be unbelievable consequences for the very folks watching our show right now.”
On Monday, Sanford released a television ad asking voters for forgiveness.
"I’ve experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes,” Sanford says in the 30-second spot. “But in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it. In that light, I humbly step forward and ask for your help in changing Washington.”