Mark Sanford and the art of the political comeback

Updated
Gov. Mark Sanford talks about the actions of the Ethics Commission during a news conference Sept. 10, 2009, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.
Gov. Mark Sanford talks about the actions of the Ethics Commission during a news conference Sept. 10, 2009, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.
AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain

Disgraced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has completed phase one of his improbable comeback.

Once the butt of jokes after he resigned in 2009 after admitting to an extramarital affair with an Argentinean woman, he finished first among 16 Republican candidates in Tuesday’s primary for a Congressional seat. Sanford garnered 37% of the vote, but he still faces a run-off next month because none of the candidates hit the 50% mark. On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, handily won the Democratic primary with 96% of the vote.

Mark Sanford’s showing leads to the question: What separates the political wrecks from the rebounders?

“If you set aside this very public personal failing, [Sanford] was very popular as governor,” Republican strategist Kristen Soltis told Chris Jansing on Jansing & Co. “He was actually talked about as a potential contender for the Republican nomination for President at one point.”

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is another politician most people left for dead after he resigned in a sexting scandal in 2011. Now, there’s speculation he’s eyeing a run for New York City mayor. The Wall Street Journal reports he spent more than a $100,000 on polling and research this month. “I guess you could never underestimate the desire of former politicians to become current politicians,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.  He said it’s a much more difficult road for Weiner to return because there are a lot more serious opponents.

Soltis said the key to surviving scandal is to “get back to focusing on substance and to allow the salacious conversation to become a side conversation.”

Yet, Kofinis said sometimes the problem is getting back in the game “too fast.”

“I think Sanford is jumping too fast. I think Congressman Weiner is jumping too fast,” he said. “I think you have to step back sometimes and do something non-political in order to become more established, more credible again.”

Mark Sanford and the art of the political comeback

Updated