POLITICS

Mark Sanford Asked Ex-Wife, Jenny, To Run His Congressional Campaign

03/03/2013 11:53 pm ET | Updated Mar 04, 2013

When former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford decided to run for South Carolina's vacant congressional seat, he tapped a familiar figure to head up his campaign: his ex-wife, Jenny.

As The Hill reported in January, Mark Sanford approached his former wife late last year to see if she would run for the seat left vacant by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), whom South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appointed to fill Jim DeMint's Senate seat.

"I told her if she had an interest in doing this that I’m out, because there’d be nothing crazier than a husband and a wife running against each other,” Sanford said. “It’d be a circus."

However, that exchange wasn't the last that the estranged couple would have about the special election. As New York Magazine reports, Sanford turned again to his former wife to see if she would join his latest political effort shortly after she decided that she wouldn't pursue a candidacy of her own:

When he first ran for Congress in 1994, he installed Jenny as his campaign manager. He did this for reasons of economy—“You’re free,” he told her at the time—but she proved a natural at the job. She blossomed into a shrewd political strategist, running Mark’s subsequent campaigns and becoming his top adviser. Will Folks, a former Sanford press secretary, says, “There’s absolutely no way he would have ever won the congressional seat or been governor without her.”

According to Jenny, she had already told Mark she would be taking a pass on the race the day before, at the funeral of a mutual friend. So when Mark came to visit her, he arrived with a proposal. “Since you’re not running, I want to know if you’ll run my campaign,” he said. “We could put the team back together.”

Jenny told him, in so many words, that wasn’t going to happen. Mark made one last appeal.

“I could pay you this time,” he said.

The Sanfords ended their marriage in 2010, almost a year after the former governor admitted to an on-going affair with a woman in Argentina. Sanford is now engaged to the Argentinian woman, Maria Belen Chapur, whom he hints will not be a prominent figure on the campaign trail.

"She’s a very private person," he told The Hill. "We'll see."

In the New York profile, Sanford describes how his relationship with Jenny became more of a business arrangement than a romantic endeavor. He told the magazine that he relied on her political advice so much that he asked her for advice immediately before the press conference where he admitted his affair.

“Be honest and get it over with," she said, according to the former governor. "Whatever you do, don’t talk about your heart."

The special election for South Carolina's 1st congressional district is set for May 7. Sanford, who held the congressional seat prior to his turn in the statehouse, is considered the frontrunner in a crowded Republican field. Both parties will hold primaries for the House seat on March 19.

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