Rep. Mark Sanford faces a fight for his political life Tuesday, thanks to his disagreements with President Donald Trump.
A recent poll found Sanford, R-S.C., and State Rep. Katie Arrington in a statistical tie ahead as they battle in Tuesday’s South Carolina Republican primary.
“This is probably the toughest primary challenge Mark Sanford has faced in his political career,” said Matt Moore, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman and a former Sanford staffer.
Though Trump has been popular in South Carolina — voters favored him over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by nearly 14 percentage points — his approval in Sanford's Charleston-area 1st Congressional District is not a uniformly strong as in other parts of the state.
A poll last week by Momentum National showed Sanford leading Arrington 39.7 percent to 39 percent, well within the survey's 4.5 percent margin of error. More than 21 percent of likely Republicans polled said they were undecided.
The race is so close that it’s prompted Sanford to do something he’s rarely done in years of conducting campaigns: Spend a lot of money.
Sanford has spent more than $380,000 from his formidable campaign war chest. He's raised more than $850,891 so far this election cycle and had nearly $1.6 million in cash on hand at the end of last month. he's unleashed a barrage of television ads in the weeks leading up to the election.
“For Congressman Sanford, who is notoriously frugal, spending money is a sign that the race is closer than he’d like,” Moore said.
Arrington’s campaign has spent more than $384,000, including on a TV spot to remind voters about Sanford’s claim that he was away “hiking the Appalachian Trail” when he was governor in 2009 when was really having an extramarital affair in Argentina.
Arrington has raised more than $583, 373 this election cycle and had $199,111 in cash on hand last month.
“Mark Sanford and the career politicians cheated on us,” Arrington says in the ad. “Bless his heart — but it’s time for Mark Sanford to take a hike — for real this time.”
Arrington told McClatchy in January that Sanford “has left the Republican Party.” She has sought to brand him on the campaign trail as a “Never-Trump” obstructionist who almost reflexively disagrees with the president.
Sanford blasted Trump’s recent tariffs on steel and aluminum, calling the move “an experiment with stupidity.”
He said Trump’s harsh rhetoric was partially responsible for last year’s shooting at a congressional Republican baseball team practice where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., suffered serious injuries.
“I respect the office of the president,” Arrington said during a debate with Sanford on Charleston’s WTMA radio Monday. “I’m not going to go on CNN and bash him because I want to be able to have the rapport and the respect to have a conversation with the president when I disagree with him, because there will be things I disagree with him on.
"You (Sanford) can’t have a seat at the table in the Oval Office because you have offended the president numerous times," she said.
Sanford says he has voted with Trump plenty, noting that he voted for the Republican-sponsored tax plan at the end of last year. He recently began airing ads touting his support for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“The attack of my opponent has been 'I’m not Trump and she is,'” Sanford told McClatchy after the radio debate Monday. “My point has been, ‘No, it’s much more gray than that.’"