The XX Factor

Mark Sanford Goes Into Election Day with Final Push of Strangeness

Mark Sanford, the man, the enigma

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Today is the final day of the special election for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, and Republican candidate Mark Sanford continues to reaffirm my theory that he’s running a science experiment to see how weird a Republican has to be to lose. Buzzfeed reporter Kate Nocera has been following Sanford on the campaign trail, an experience that sounds a bit like being trapped on a family vacation with a creepy uncle whose views on the world come straight out of a 1962 edition of Reader’s Digest

On Saturday, Sanford decided to debunk the claim that female voters would be turned off by charges that he’s harassing his ex-wife. Nocera describes his strategy: “He then dragged the small gaggle of reporters from store to store to ‘try to find a woman who doesn’t like me.’” Hey, nothing screams “not creepy” like running up to random women and challenging them to insult you to your face! Unsurprisingly, the women who were willing to talk to Sanford and the reporters turned out to be Sanford supporters—though one of them told the candidate she was only voting for him because her political views aligned with his. Otherwise, the woman explained to Sanford, “I’m not your biggest fan.” (Which seemed to be a Southern-nice way of saying “I’m glad this job will get you out of the neighborhood.”) 

Nocera also describes how, later that weekend, Sanford bullied her into letting him drive her rental car, despite not being on her rental agreement. He claimed he needed to drive because “You have to ask questions and pay attention.” (Sadly, the pearls of wisdom he dispensed, having wrested control of the car from Nocera, were not that illuminating—just the same well-trod excuses for violating his divorce agreement. Oh, and he’s very fond of his children.) Sanford also hitched rides with other reporters, joking that his young campaign staffer Martha was “an awful, terrible driver.”

Will this kind of behavior hurt him in today’s election? After falling behind in the polls, Sanford crept back up and, as Joan Walsh reports for Salon, is now a point ahead of his Democratic opponent. (For those of you disoriented by Sanford’s weirdness, that’s Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of TV host Stephen Colbert.) As Dave Weigel reports, Sanford has been turning on the charm. If Sanford manages to pull this out, we can only hope he’ll find equally exciting ways to push his luck next campaign season. Maybe he’ll refuse to wear pants at routine campaign appearances? Would a pantless Republican still trump a fully-clothed Democrat in South Carolina?