Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina, has cleared the first hurdle in his comeback campaign. He will be in a runoff to determine the Republican candidate for a vacant House seat. He got some 37 percent of the primary vote. Which would have seemed an utterly improbable back in 2009, when he delivered a tearful apology for deceiving his wife about an affair and voters about his whereabouts. He'd put out a story, during a time when he was mysteriously unavailable, that he was off "hiking on the Appalachian Trail." Truth is, he was in Rio with his Argentine mistress.
As political sex scandals go, Sanford's was decidedly good, clean Shakespearian stuff. He was not hitting on a young intern, patronizing a string of high priced prostitutes, or tweeting obscene close-ups. He tumbled for another woman, and he lied to cover it. In another refreshing departure from the tired old political sex-scandal script, Sanford's wife did not stand by him. Neither at the press conference nor later. She ditched him, and he went off to find bliss with the mistress and make an honest woman of her.
Sanford, who had been spoken of as presidential material, was considered finished in politics when his second term ended in 2011.
But he has returned, just as they all seem to do.
He has asked the voters to understand and forgive and, evidently, many are willing. Perhaps because they like Sanford's persuasive take on the nation's finances enough to overlook the philandering.
Still, you wish that he could find a less smarmy way of asking for forgiveness. A more straightforward way of explaining his failures. His approach has been to use the language of the therapeutic culture and to talk about "life's journeys" and how none of us "go through life without mistakes," but how, "in their wake, we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it."
We pay preachers and faith healers for that kind of stuff and it is enough to make you long for a touch of the kind of earthy honesty of other Southern pols who had a wandering eye.
When he was warned about attending a function where his political enemies planned to use whiskey and exotic women to lure him into compromising situations, Governor Big Jim Folsom of Alabama supposedly said, "Hell boys, I'm going. And if you use that kind of bait to trap Big Jim, then you'll catch him every time."
And, then, of course, there was Edwin Edwards, the four-time governor of Louisiana and one-time federal inmate. People called him the "Silver Fox" or the "Silver Zipper" and he is supposed to have said that he could not be brought down by a sex scandal that fell anything short of being "caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy."
Edwards is, like Sanford, on the comeback trail. Running not so much for reelection – he is 85 and that will never happen, not even in Louisiana – as for re-recognition. He is no long a resident of the crossbar hotel so he speaks to appreciative audiences, telling them:
"When I was 9 years old … I got my first federal job. I was a water boy. … I would pull that bucket from out of an open barrel and walk down a line of 200 men, who would drink out of the same bucket, the same dipper. … I was paid 9 cents an hour ... As fate would have it, 66 years later, I got my second federal job. That was in a little Louisiana town called Oakdale. I was the prison librarian. I was being paid 22 cents an hour, so things were getting better."
Edwards has a book, naturally, and a new wife. She is more than 50 years his junior and carrying his child.
When someone suggested that Viagra was responsible, Edwards supposedly said, "I don't need Viagra. It needs me. They make it out of my blood."
Mr. & Mrs. Edwards will be featured in an upcoming reality show.
There will probably never be a Sanford reality show. And that’s a good thing.