(CN) – South Carolinians awoke Wednesday morning to word that Mark Sanford, the former governor and a presence on the state’s political scene for nearly a quarter of a century, was defeated in his congressional primary by a candidate who made his lack of support for President Donald Trump the focus of her campaign.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, State Rep. Katie Arrington has garnered 50.6 percent just enough to win the nomination outright and avoid a runoff election with Sanford, who wound up with 47 percent of the vote.
Sanford is the second House Republican to lose a primary a this year — the first was Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., and is the second GOP critic of Trump to feel the ire of Republican voters. Last week, Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican, failed to get 50 percent of the vote in her district and now must compete in a runoff election.
Roby had famously declared she would not vote for Trump in 2016 following the revelation of vulgar comments he’d made on the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape. Trump later dismissed the controversy, describing his comments as “locker room talk.”
But Trump was especially anxious to see Sanford, a fiscal conservative who has repeatedly criticized the president and his policies, go down in defeat.
On Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the polls closed in South Carolina, Trump endorsed Arrington via Twitter — the first time the president has endorsed an opponent over an incumbent of his adopted party.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump tweeted. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!”
That was a reference to Sanford’s June 2009 disappearance from the state as governor, which he later revealed was to further his affair with María Belén Chapur, an Argentine woman.
While it led to censure by the South Carolina General Assembly and his resignation as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, it did not result in Sanford’s actual resignation from the governorship
On Wednesday Trump tweeted that his advisers didn’t want him to get involved in the Republican primary, thinking Rep. Mark Sanford “would easily win.”
But Trump says Rep. Katie Arrington “was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot.”
Sanford, who had never lost a political race in South Carolina, told supporters Tuesday night “I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”
In her victory speech, Arrington asked Republicans to come together, saying “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.”
But Trump’s influence apparently does not reflect omnipotence.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, one of President Donald Trump’s earliest and most vocal campaign supporters, will have to compete in a runoff for the Republican nomination for a full term in two weeks after failing to get a majority of the vote.
McMaster had 44 percent of the primary vote to businessman John Warren’s 26 percent when the Associated Press called the runoff with 55 percent of precincts reporting.
Under South Carolina law, if no candidate gets a majority of the vote in a primary, the top two competitors go head-to-head for the nomination.
Like Arrington, McMaster had had the support of Trump, who wrote tweets backing the South Carolina governor.
McMaster was the highest-ranking GOP elected official to endorse Trump in January 2016 when he was the state’s lieutenant governor. He ascended to the governorship a year later when Trump appointed then-Gov. Nikki Haley to the Cabinet.