Surprise! Sanfords back at GOP convention
TAMPA – Just days after former Gov. Mark Sanford made headlines for proposing to Maria Belen Chapur, his Argentinian mistress who played a role in his very public divorce and political downfall, he appeared on the floor of the Republican National Convention here.
Sanford said Wednesday he decided to come here at the last minute, after FOX News offered him a small job as a paid contributor.
The former governor, who once was mentioned as a possible GOP vice presidential pick, saw his political career end – or at least stall out — with a spate of bad headlines after his staff claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really visiting Chapur, his subsequent divorce from his wife Jenny, and the state’s largest-ever ethics fine.
He has kept a low profile since leaving the governor’s office in January 2011, at least until this week.
News of his engagement to Chapur broke during the weekend, and Sanford appeared just days later, on TV cameras, walking around the convention floor with a smile on his face.
“It was a very different experience from the last 1 1/2-year period of my life where I’ve been sequestered on a farm south of Charleston,” Sanford said. “I felt a mixture of nostalgia and joy. You forget how many people you have gotten to know over 20 years of politics, whether at the national level or the gubernatorial level.”
Sanford’s appearance and warm reception raised speculation that he might re-enter the political fray one day. Asked about that, he said, “People come to read anything into 15 different tea leaves, I’ve come to learn.”
State Sen. Tom Davis, a Republican delegate from Beaufort and Sanford’s former chief of staff, said he talked his former boss a week ago but was surprised to see him here.
Davis added he would be less surprised to see Sanford at future political events.
“I think he’s trying to figure out how to become engaged, how to help this movement move forward,” he said.
Since the affair led to the downfall of his marriage and political career, Sanford has gone to lengths to apologize and reach out to his supporters. Davis noted Sanford admitted to his mistakes, has sought forgiveness and South Carolinians are likely to offer it.
“I think with Mark Sanford what they see is somebody who recognizes the pain that he caused to his ex-wife and to his children and to his credit, to the best way he could, made amends, tried to get his life in a positive direction and tried to make a contribution again,” he said. “I’m very proud of him for doing that.”
“The beauty of friendships is they outlast the different bumps and scrapes of life,” Sanford added. “It’s been a real treat to catch up with lots of friends.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.