Infamously sleazy GOP congressman loses primary, putting seat in play


The notoriously scandal-plagued Appalachian Trail-hiking Rep. Mark Sanford is out. And now his South Carolina seat could be up for grabs.

On Tuesday night, South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford fell to a primary loss, the first loss in his career. His defeat ends a long and scandal-plagued political career for the congressman — and gives Democrats a new chance to expand the map.

Sanford is famous for his political resiliency. He first served in the House from 1995 to 2001, followed by two terms as governor of South Carolina. He then won back his old House seat in a 2013 special election, despite being disgraced by a sex scandal as governor, having disappeared to Argentina for several days to be with his mistress while claiming he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail."

Since Trump's election, Sanford has voted for his agenda 87 percent of the time, including to repeal health insurance for sick people and for the GOP tax scam.

But he has criticized Trump's behavior, calling Trump's crippling steel tariffs and his racist comments about Haiti and Africa "stupid." His perceived disloyalty earned him a primary challenge from the even more pro-Trump state Rep. Katie Arrington.

As polls showed the race even, Sanford took out TV ads for the first time in five years. But it was too late to save him.

in a final blow, Trump endorsed Arrington in a tweet just hours before polls closed, blasting Sanford as "MIA and nothing but trouble" and — in a nod to his famous scandal — "better off in Argentina."

The Democratic nominee is Joe Cunningham, a construction law attorney and yoga studio owner. He is running on a broad platform including health care expansion, criminal justice reform, and protection of civil rights for women and LGBT people. He and Arrington will now face off in the general election.

This marks the second time this cycle that a Republican House incumbent was defeated in a primary. In May, North Carolina Republican Robert Pittenger became the first, setting up a pickup opportunity for Democratic Marine veteran and green energy investor Dan McCready.

Alabama Republican Rep. Martha Roby could be in danger next. She is facing a runoff against an opponent who questions her Trump credentials.

Under normal circumstances, South Carolina's 1st Congressional District would never be a competitive seat. The district, which spans much of the South Carolina coast from Hilton Head Island to McClellanville, backed Trump by 13 points. But it is less conservative than some other House seats that have been competitive or flipped blue, and the Cook Political Report does not consider it a safe seat for the GOP.

It is clear that thanks in part to Trump, whatever happens in November, hordes of congressional Republicans will be out of office next year.