'Stunned and grateful': Katie Arrington, Republican who beat Sanford, credits Trump with win
Arrington would be South Carolina's first Republican woman elected to federal office.
South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington, who defeated Rep. Mark Sanford in the GOP primary, after voting Tuesday at Bethany United Methodist Church in Summerville.Kathryn Ziesig / The Post And Courier via AP
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With hours left before polls closed in her race to defeat Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, Katie Arrington got a shocking text message from a friend: President Donald Trump had just endorsed her on Twitter.
Arrington, 47, won with 50.6 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press, going from underdog primary challenger up against an incumbent who had never lost an election to November favorite in the safe GOP district.
She is the latest candidate to benefit from a wholehearted embrace of the president, a stance that made Trump's endorsement particularly effective because it confirmed her message to voters all along: She wasn't just any Republican. She was a Trump Republican.
"We are the party of President Donald J. Trump," she said in her victory speech Tuesday night.
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Sanford has been critical of the president — Trump "fanned the flames of intolerance" and was unprepared for the presidency, he said previously — and it gave his opponent ample television soundbites to splice together and paint him as disloyal.
Like Trump, she pledged to "drain the swamp." She said she would donate her congressional salary to charity (Trump donates his salary as president) and that she would limit herself to eight years in Washington (Trump has called for congressional term limits).
"I'm only going to go, if they'll have me, four terms," she told NBC News. After that, she wants to take a year to tour the country in an RV with her husband.
"Career goals!" she said.
Trump congratulated Arrington in a tweet on Wednesday, suggesting that he had been discouraged from making an endorsement in a primary challenge to a sitting Republican representative, but couldn't resist. The pair also spoke by phone on Wednesday as well, Arrington said in a Facebook post.
My political representatives didn’t want me to get involved in the Mark Sanford primary thinking that Sanford would easily win - but with a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot. Congrats to Katie Arrington!
The GOP has struggled to recruit as many women, and Arrington's past experiences — living paycheck-to-paycheck, working the night shift at Denny's, and starting a day care so she could care for her own special-needs child while working — distinguished her in the race against Sanford, a millionaire. At 47, she's more than a decade younger than the average House member, too.
"I'm a hard worker and I keep my word," she said in a phone interview after her primary victory. "That goes from the graveyard shift to Denny's to the briefing rooms of the Pentagon and hopefully to the halls of Congress."
Asked if there was any daylight between her and the president on the issues, Arrington said it was impossible for two people to agree on everything ("I've been married," she quipped), but said that she would not criticize the president in the press.
"I’m not going to go on CNN to bash him," she said. "Now I have the rapport to go in and speak to him and have a conversation."