CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Mark Sanford picked up the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in his quest for a vacant South Carolina congressional seat Tuesday, even as House Democrats launched another ad attacking the former governor's personal indiscretions.
Paul, who has said he is considering a run for the White House, said Sanford has been an advocate for limited government and cutting spending.
"Mark has proven during his time in office that watching out for taxpayers and holding the line on spending are his top priorities," Paul said in a statement a week before the special congressional election.
Both Sanford and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, were to appear at events Tuesday, a day after their first campaign debate in which Colbert Busch for the first time raised the issue of Sanford's past. Sanford's political career was derailed after he left the state to visit his mistress in Argentina, telling his staff he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Sanford is trying to rebound from the scandal, which forced him to pay the largest ethics fine ever in South Carolina because of state travel expenses he used for the affair.
The new television ad from the House Majority PAC featured a woman who says that she is a lifelong Republican but that she could not vote for Sanford because his betrayal of South Carolinians "is more than a mile long."
During the campaign, Colbert Busch had refused to bring up Sanford's personal past. But that changed Monday during their debate in the race for state's vacant 1st Congressional District seat.
As Sanford stressed his efforts to rein in spending as a three-term holder of the congressional seat and a two-term governor, Colbert Busch reminded him that he once used taxpayer funds to "leave the country for a personal purpose" — referring to the extramarital affair with the Argentine woman, to whom he is now engaged.
Monday's debate took place before a lively audience, whose members frequently erupted in shouts or applause.
When Colbert Busch first made the remark about Sanford's affair, the former governor said he didn't hear it and asked to have it repeated. Ultimately, he didn't respond.
Later, he was reminded by a questioner that he voted to impeach President Bill Clinton because of his involvement with Monica Lewinsky and asked if he would vote that way again.
"I would reverse the question," Sanford said. "Do you think President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life for a mistake he made in his life?"
On the issues, Colbert Busch, who worked for years for a shipping company, criticized Sanford for voting in Congress against money for dredging the Charleston Harbor shipping channel and building a higher bridge so the Port of Charleston can handle a new generation of larger container ships.
Sanford shot back that if it bothered her so much before, she wouldn't have written him a "$500 check as I left the Congress to run for governor," referring to her contribution to his campaign in 2001.
He added: "I was against earmarks before being against earmarks was cool."
Colbert Busch also said that, if elected, she would return 10 percent of her congressional salary to the government.
The candidates differed over issues such as immigration reform, the federal health care overhaul and abortion during the debate sponsored by the Patch news service, the South Carolina Radio Network and Charleston television station WCBD.
Sanford repeatedly tried to tie Colbert Busch to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and labor unions, but she said she would be an independent voice and responsible only to the residents of the district. They also had different takes on the state of affairs.
"We're at an incredible tipping point as a civilization, and I think if we don't get spending right in Washington, D.C., there will be real consequences," Sanford warned.
"Here's the fundamental difference," Colbert Busch responded. "This is not the end of our time as we know it. The sky is not falling Henny Penny. In fact our best days are ahead of us."
The debate was their first joint appearance in the campaign that began after then-U.S. Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by fellow Republican Jim DeMint.
Sanford and Colbert Busch are vying along with Green Party Candidate Eugene Platt in the May 7 special election in the district.