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April 3rd, 2013
04:32 PM ET

Mark Sanford: I failed in 2009, but GOP primary win was a referendum

By Jake Tapper and Sherisse Pham

Going from the Appalachian trail to the comeback trail, Mark Sanford is now the Republican nominee for an open congressional seat in South Carolina, the same state he ran as governor, and where he developed a reputation for fiscal conservatism. Sanford finished his second term in 2011 under the cloud of an extra-marital affair, which came to light only after he had vanished for six days. His staff said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but Sanford later admitted he was in Argentina with his mistress.

"I think that there are too many people in politics that think they know it all. And they project this image of perfection, the perfect family ... when the truth is, none of us are perfect," Sanford said on "The Lead with Jake Tapper" on Wednesday.

He may have found a measure of forgiveness from voters in his congressional primary victory Tuesday night, with his Argentine former mistress and current fiancée, Maria Belen Chapur, by his side in a rare public appearance. But Sanford still has to survive the May 7 general election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, who's got some star power on her side - her brother and top fundraiser, comedian Stephen Colbert.

Sanford has been criticized from both the left, and the right. Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger from "The Washington Post" responded to one of Sanford's tweets in which he wrote, "There's going to be a real contrast going forward between our ideas on the role of government, and that of my opponent." Rubin tweeted back: "and between a married, stable, responsible adult and Sanford."

That is a conservative Republican woman expressing serious misgivings.

"A lot of Republican conservative women voted last night," said Sanford. "And they decided to send me in as the Republican standard bearer."

"Last night was a big referendum," Sanford said. "And I also would say that one thing I have consistently done through this campaign is to acknowledge the fact that I failed back in 2009."

That failure, Sanford said, led to him re-evaluating his life. As a congressman, Sanford voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and opposes same-sex marriage. Yet Sanford is someone who did not lead an exemplary life as a husband. Some question how Sanford can deny love between two men or women, when he himself is somebody who talks about following his heart, regardless of laws and traditions.

"I think the current debate has little to do with same-sex marriage and a lot to do with the Democratic position in the country, and a lot to do with the role of the courts," said Sanford.

"If you're a conservative, you believe in the notion of federalism; one size does not fit all," added Sanford. "We shouldn't have prescriptive answers for the different things that we have to resolve as a family of Americans."

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