A South Carolina Republican who publicly challenged Donald Trump – drawing a last-minute Twitter attack from the president – has lost a primary election to a more conservative opponent.
The race to represent South Carolina’s 1st district in the House of Representatives became in part a referendum on Republican allegiance to Mr Trump.
It pitted Mark Sanford, the incumbent representative who revived his career after a sex scandal, against a pro-Trump state legislator named Katie Arrington.
With almost all votes counted early on Wednesday morning, Ms Arrington had taken 50.6 per cent of the vote to Mr Sanford’s 46.5 per cent, taking her over the 50 per cent threshold needed to avoid a run-off.
Widely deemed to be finished in politics after he disappeared while serving as governor and then revealed he had been with a mistress in Argentina, Mr Sanford restyled himself as one of few elected Republicans willing to defy Mr Trump, who remains deeply popular with the party’s conservative base.
He has called Mr Trump’s remarks disparaging immigrants “stupid”, said during the presidential campaign that Mr Trump needed to “just shut up” and stop attacking his foes and should release his tax returns, and has warned that Mr Trump “fanned the flames of intolerance”.
Hours before the polls closed in South Carolina, Mr Trump blasted back with a tweet that referenced Mr Sanford’s affair, saying he was “better off in Argentina”.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA (make America great again). He is MIA (missing in action) and nothing but trouble”, Mr Trump wrote.
Instead, the president threw his weight behind Ms Arrington, writing that she “is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes”.
In challenging Mr Sanford from his right flank, Ms Arrington played up his rejection of Mr Trump. Her campaign released an ad that compiled clips of Mr Sanford chastising the president and branded him a #NeverTrumper.
“I want to go to Congress to support President Trump’s bold conservative agenda for a stronger America,” she said at the end of the spot.
The president has had a mixed record in issuing endorsements for congressional races. He angered some Republican Party officials last year for continuing to back far-right Senate candidate Roy Moore in an Alabama race even after Mr Moore was beset by allegations of inappropriate conduct with minors, which Mr Moore denied. Mr Moore lost the vote to Doug Jones, a Democrat who made his name prosecuting two former Ku Klux Klan members for bombing a black church.