“That’s a complete lie.”
So says Rep. Mark Sanford about Katie Arrington, the Republican who beat him in last month’s primary election in South Carolina’s First Congressional District.
Sanford was talking about offshore oil drilling, which has become one of the defining issues of the fiercely competitive race between Arrington and Democrat Joe Cunningham.
Arrington said during the primary campaign she supported President Donald Trump’s plan to allow drilling. That’s at odds with the position held by the majority of voters in the coastal district that relies on pristine waters to support local economic drivers like tourism and fishing.
Now Arrington is suggesting she’s always opposed the practice.
Not so, said Sanford, one of his party’s most vocal drilling opponents in Congress.
“You are kidding me,” Sanford told McClatchy on Tuesday. “Let me just say emphatically, that is the opposite of what she said on the campaign, that is the opposite of what she said in multiple debates and public forums that we held together. Period.”
Arrington, a state representative from Summerville, sold herself to primary voters as a champion of Trump, whereas Sanford, who was unafraid to break with some of the president’s policies, was not.
When Sanford took a hard stance against Trump’s plan to allow more leases for oil drilling and seismic air gun testing, Arrington didn’t hesitate to draw a distinction.
“The difference between Mark Sanford and me couldn’t be any clearer,” Arrington said at the time. “Mark Sanford continues to support Barack Obama’s policy of foreign oil dependence while I fully support an America First policy of true American energy independence.”
Arrington followed up in a correspondence with McClatchy in January that she believed oil drilling could create job opportunities for people without college degrees, and that money brought in through drilling could be reinvested in green energy initiatives.
She tweeted she aligned herself not only with Trump but with South Carolina Republican Reps. Trey Gowdy and Jeff Duncan, both of whom unequivocally support the practice.
On Tuesday, Arrington consultant Andrew Boucher told McClatchy the Republican candidate felt compelled to clarify that her support for an “all of the above” energy policy — which typically includes offshore drilling — didn’t mean she supported drilling off the South Carolina coast.
“There was so much disinformation being thrown around by the Democrats that she felt it necessary to clarify her position and make a definitive statement,” Boucher said. “She does not support drilling for oil off of South Carolina’s coast and she never has.”
It might be too late to re-frame the narrative. Days after Sanford lost his primary, two Republican mayors in the Low Country — Tim Goodwin of Folly Beach and Jimmy Carroll of Isle of Palms — supported Cunningham because of his opposition to offshore drilling.
“(Arrington) has a long history of supporting offshore drilling which is well documented on video and news reports,” Cunningham said Tuesday in a statement to McClatchy. “Now that Republicans are crossing the aisle to endorse our campaign over this issue, she’s spilling a different story. The people of the Low Country aren’t buying it.”
In Washington, Republicans are also joining with Democrats in growing numbers to oppose offshore drilling. Several of them offered a amendments to a government spending bill in the House this week taking aim at the administration’s policies.
The amendments could have been helpful to some of the House GOP’s most vulnerable incumbents this election cycle, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Scott Taylor of Virginia.
However, Republican leaders blocked votes on all of them, fearful one would pass and embarrass the Trump administration.
That offshore drilling is becoming a flashpoint, from Capitol Hill to Congressional campaigns, is a testament to the lobbying that anti-drilling advocacy groups and activists have done to paint the issue as critical to the sustainability of coastal communities, said Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.
“We’ve been working this, and it’s been gaining traction,” Knapp said.