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Mark Sanford talks with Amari President, from Charleston, at the Pee Dee Farms General Store during the Galivants Ferry Stump gathering Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

GALIVANTS FERRY — While Democratic presidential candidates greeted voters Monday evening at the Galivants Ferry Stump, another contender hoping to take down President Donald Trump — albeit from a different direction — showed up: Mark Sanford.

Despite being a Republican, the former South Carolina governor and Charleston congressman received a warm reception from many voters at the event, with onlookers asking to shake his hand and take selfies. A few conceded that they were moderate Republicans themselves, pleased to see one of their own amongst the crowds.

"I'm a little surprised, but I'm glad to see him and I'm glad that other people are going up and speaking to him, too," said Quentin Gaddy, 28, an attorney from Dillon.

Sanford had attended the Stump many times before, following the longtime rule that Republicans are welcome to come but not to speak.

This time, he appeared at the invitation of organizer Russell Holliday, who said she ran into him at a restaurant and encouraged him to come — though she did not expect him to take her up on the offer.

"As my daddy used to say, 'All Republicans are invited because how else are they going to see true democracy in action?' " Holliday quipped.

Sanford's appearance at the Stump followed a day of traveling around the state to make the case for the S.C. GOP executive committee to reverse their decision to forgo a presidential primary next year.

During a trio of press conferences in Greenville, Columbia and outside Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant, Sanford accused the party of breaking its own rules by canceling the primary. 

“I don’t want to make this my only debate between myself and the president of the United States,” Sanford said, gesturing to a life-size cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump.

Sanford said his team is looking at every possible option to push for a primary, with a legal fight being a last resort.

Sanford also said he found the party’s aversion to holding a presidential primary perplexing, and suggested it may signal that Trump’s support may not be as strong as it appears.

“Why in the world would the Trump administration not be insisting, and the Trump campaign not be insisting, that the primary take place? Because in the world of politics, if you have a chance to lock in a 90 percent win, particularly if you’re in the First in the South primary, you do it,” Sanford said, adding this might suggest Trump’s support could be, “a mile wide and perhaps an inch deep.”

The recent decision by the executive committee was not without precedent.

The S.C. GOP declined to hold primaries in 1984 and 2004 while incumbent Republicans sought re-election, and the S.C. Democratic Party opted to do the same in 1996 and 2012 when incumbent Democrats were running.

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Sanford said when George W. Bush was running for re-election, though, he had no challengers. Trump, he said, has three bona fide candidates.

“It’s an apples and oranges situation,” Sanford said.

S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson contrasted the embrace of Sanford by Democrats at the Galivants Ferry Stump to the efforts by S.C. Republicans to diminish his candidacy and take away his opportunity to even compete in the state by nixing the primary

"I think you've got a Republican Party that claims to love freedom and democracy but at the same time they want to squelch freedom and democracy," Robertson said. "That's kind of hypocritical, and I think that they'll pay for it at the ballot box."

Robertson acknowledged, however, the positive reaction may have more to do with who Sanford is challenging.

"I think anybody running against Donald Trump is going to get a warm reception here," Robertson said.

Caitlin Byrd contributed to this report.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.