COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor and congressman, is heading to another early voting state as he considers mounting an uphill challenge to President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
A spokeswoman confirmed that Sanford would travel Tuesday night to New Hampshire for meetings. Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman, and Tom Rath, a longtime Republican National Convention delegate and former New Hampshire attorney general, told The Associated Press they planned to meet with Sanford during his trip this week.
Rath also backed then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 presidential bid.
Last month, Sanford — known during his Capitol Hill years as a deficit hawk mindful of federal spending — said he would take 30 days to decide if he would run against Trump or possibly start a think tank devoted to fiscal conservatism. He said he is determined to bring debt and fiscal restraint into the national conversation.
“There’s plenty of discussion on that front,” Sanford said last month on CNN. “The place where there’s no discussion is the way in which interest is the largest growing expense in the federal government. We will spend more on interest than we do on our national defense bill in just three years. Nobody’s talking about it.”
In a video released Tuesday, Sanford said he had a “unique perspective” for trying to find solutions to what he portrayed as a mounting fiscal crisis.
Sanford’s motivations immediately drew skepticism from some South Carolina political observers who have watched him plot a political comeback before and questioned whether he was merely seeking publicity and relevance following a defeat in last year’s primary.
“If this move were the earnest desire of a statesman to answer a call of the people, it would be admirable service,” said Catherine Templeton, former Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s labor and environmental secretary who backed Sanford as governor and congressman and previously declined to run against him in Congress. “By his own words, however, this is about Mark doing what Mark does. This is Mark being Mark.”
Although unlikely to have had a significant impact on the results, Trump endorsed Sanford’s primary opponent just hours before the polls closed last year. He tweeted that Sanford “has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign” and “is better off in Argentina” — a reference to Sanford’s secret 2009 rendezvous to South America for an extramarital affair while his in-the-dark gubernatorial staff told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Cagey about his plans since the loss, Sanford has said he’s been approached repeatedly about possibly challenging Trump and was prepared for the Republican establishment to “naturally circle the wagons around Trump.”
A primary bid would have relevance only if states opt to hold primaries, not a given in the party of an incumbent seeking reelection. State Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick has said state party leaders will make that decision this fall.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP .
Hunter Woodall contributed to this report from Manchester, N.H.