sanford stickers.jpg

Poll volunteer Tom Spain hands out stickers to Mark Sanford after he cast his own ballot at Alhambra Hall poling station Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Mount Pleasant. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Congressman Mark Sanford returned to Washington on Wednesday, marking the beginning of the end of his days representing South Carolina in the U.S. House.

By the evening, though, he was on Fox News fielding questions about his nationally watched defeat and whether his criticism of President Donald Trump led to his own downfall in the 1st Congressional District.

"I've never said anything about him personally," Sanford said, appearing on the conservative news network in a red tie. "What I have disagreed with were certain stands that he took, and I think that's legitimate."

Sanford lost his GOP primary Tuesday to Republican state Rep. Katie Arrington of Summerville. She bested him narrowly, with 50.56 percent of the vote to his 46.49 percent. The remainder went to a third candidate Dimitri Cherny, who has previously run as a Democrat.

Sanford's defeat was the first in his lengthy political history, which began in 1994 with his first bid for Congress.

He reflected on the significance of his loss to a challenger who, throughout the campaign positioned herself as someone who would support Trump's agenda. He echoed talking points from his own concession speech.

"I do think that this is a wake-up call about the institutions of our country, what we believe in on that front and, ultimately, what we believe in regard to the Republican Party," Sanford said.

Asked if this loss marked the end of his political career, Sanford flashed a grin. 

"I've learned never to say never," the former governor said.

Was a 2020 presidential run on his mind?

"No. I'm a day out of my election," Sanford said, urging the media to take things one step at a time.

Moments later, Trump's former White House press secretary Sean Spicer weighed in on the loss, too. After describing Sanford as a South Carolina institution, Spicer said this election sends a message.

"What this came down to was style. He was attacking the president and the president's style," Spicer said. "The vote is clear: The people of South Carolina took Katie Arrington's position over Mark Sanford's."

Speaking to members of the Washington media after a Wednesday morning press conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged the political change that had taken place overnight in the Palmetto State.

"It was a very close election. Some of our members have lost primaries. That's just what happens in contested primaries. Every cycle people lose primaries. That happens," Ryan said.

About 15 minutes after the House opened for legislative business in the afternoon, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Lexington, approached the podium.

"Congratulations, state representative Katie Arrington on the dynamic primary victory yesterday to represent the historic 1st District of South Carolina," Wilson said.

It is unclear whether Sanford was in the House to hear it.

Sanford did, however, vote in favor of a resolution to amend the Controlled Substances Act.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.