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Focus On Sanford's Whereabouts, Again, Won't Help Gender Gap

If it seemed like former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's problem with female voters couldn't get any worse, well, it appears that it might have.

Sanford, a Republican, is hoping to put the marital scandal that defined his second term behind him with a return to Congress in a May 7 special election. But just two days later, Sanford will have to appear in court to defend himself from an accusation that he was at his ex-wife's house in February without her permission.

A complaint Jenny Sanford filed in Charleston County Court asks that Mark Sanford be held in contempt of court and "punished accordingly." According to the court filing, Jenny Sanford confronted her ex-husband as he left her Sullivan's Island home on Feb. 3 by the back door, "using his phone as a flashlight."

According to the Charleston County Court website, a hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 9.

In a statement his campaign released Wednesday, Mark Sanford acknowledged that he was at his ex-wife's house on Feb. 3:

"I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14 year old son because as a father I didn't think he should watch it alone," Sanford said in the statement. "Given [his ex-wife Jenny] was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cell phone when she returned and told her what had happened."

Jenny Sanford's complaint says the Feb. 3 incident was part of a "pattern of entering onto plaintiff's property, both at her former and current residences, without her permission and against her wishes."

According to her complaint: "Plaintiff has informed defendant on a number of occasions that this behavior is in violation of the court's order, and has demanded that it not occur again. She additionally filed a 'no trespass' letter with her local police department."

And although Mark Sanford calls the Sullivan's Island home "the beach house," property records show that Jenny Sanford is the sole owner.

In his statement, Mark Sanford called it "curious" that sealed court documents are now being published in news accounts. "I agree with Jenny that the media is no place to debate what is ultimately a family court matter, and out of respect for Jenny and the boys, I'm not going to have any further comment at this time."

The new revelations, though, was enough for the National Republican Congressional Committee to drop its backing of Sanford in the coming special election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Polling has shown a considerable gender gap in the tight race, with women preferring Colbert Busch.

Mark Sanford was a rising Republican star as governor when he disappeared for several days in 2009. Aides said he was "hiking the Appalachian trail," but he later admitted he had gone to Argentina to visit his lover, whom he called his "soul mate."

He and his wife divorced, but he served out his second term. He jumped back into politics early this year when Republican Rep. Tim Scott was picked to fill a vacant Senate seat. Sanford had held the same congressional seat before he became governor.

Sanford won both a Republican primary last month and a runoff two weeks ago, campaigning on themes of remorse and redemption. He is now engaged to the Argentine woman, Maria Chapur.

S.V. Dáte is the congressional editor on NPR's Washington Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.