In the flurry of Democratic presidential candidates visiting the Monadnock Region, one of a few Republican challengers quietly swung through Keene Friday afternoon.
Mark Sanford, 59, is a former South Carolina governor and former U.S. representative. He announced his candidacy a few weeks ago, joining Joe Walsh and Bill Weld as challengers in the GOP primary to President Donald Trump.
“It is something of a David-and-Goliath kind of task when you have a sitting president,” Sanford said.
The “bullseye” of his platform, as he says, is reducing spending and the national debt, which he hopes will attract people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Regardless of their political affiliation, he argued, everyone wants their government to be sustainable.
Starting at The Toadstool Bookshop, Sanford walked down Main Street and handed out his pamphlets with a single staff member in tow. He approached everyone confidently but politely, typically starting with: “Can I be rude and say hello?”
From a distance, one woman mistakenly thought he was Tom Steyer, a Democratic candidate. Sanford laughed it off and took the opportunity to introduce himself and hand her a pamphlet.
“I wish luck to anybody if they can take Trump out,” she replied.
Inside The Works Café, Jason Magee also thanked Sanford for joining the race. He told a Sentinel reporter that he lived in Keene for about 30 years before retiring and moving to Washington state. Identifying as a Democrat, he lauded Sanford for having the fortitude to speak out.
“It’s nice to see that these discussions are happening not only in the party that I vote for, but also in the president’s party,” Magee said.
Voters along Main Street didn’t ask Sanford about his extramarital affair, which made headlines in 2009. While serving as South Carolina’s governor, Sanford’s whereabouts were unknown to his family and staff for five days. His spokesperson told the press at one point that Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but upon his return, the governor admitted he had been in Argentina with a woman. His wife filed for divorce a few months later. Sanford eventually became engaged to the woman, María Belén Chapur, but the engagement ended two years later.
In a taping of WMUR’s “Candidate Café” series this week, Sanford said the aftermath involved a long healing process with his sons, during which they spent time in the wilderness and built a small cabin together. He said he’s also learned to focus on the present, rather than dwell on the past.
In Keene, between his brief and mostly friendly chats with passersby, Sanford answered reporters’ questions, including one about the difference he’s noticed between Iowa and New Hampshire voters.
“Whether right of left in their philosophy, people [here] seem to be more open-minded,” he said before entering 365 Cycles.
Farther down Main Street, he stopped by Good Fortune Jewelry and Pawn and made his pitch to the owner, Roger Weinreich, who introduced Sanford to the rest of the room.
“This is Mark: He has the courage to run as a Republican,” Weinreich said. This was greeted by lighthearted applause and well wishes, including from a woman who shook Sanford’s hand and announced herself as a Democrat.
In Brewbakers Café, Sanford sat down at a table with Danica Morris of Marlborough, who told him this would be her first presidential election as a registered voter.
“Got any plans for students loans?” she asked. “I’m taking a semester off because I can’t afford to go to school.”
Morris told him that she’d like to attend Keene State College and wants to be a teacher, but tuition can be unmanageable for a family, especially since she has younger siblings. The two connected on the belief that not all student loan debt should be wiped away, but that the cost of education is too high.
Wrapping up his tour of downtown Keene, Sanford said he appreciates the city and its people. He said he feels motivated by conversations like the ones he had Friday, when voters on both sides of the aisle thanked him for running.
“... I think it shows there’s a level of Trump fatigue out there,” he said, adding that there seems to be a market of disaffected independents and Republicans looking for representation. The question, he noted, is how big that market is.
Regardless of any encouragement he draws from discussions with voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere, Sanford made clear that he understands his odds.
Taco Odelay owner Ash Sheehan asked during a brief chat, “What are your chances?”
“Longshot,” Sanford answered, and they both laughed. “I’m not delusional.”