Mark Sanford drops GOP primary challenge to Trump

CONCORD, N.H. -- Former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford is suspending his 2020 Republican presidential campaign.

Sanford -- one of three long-shot contenders who launched GOP primary challenges against President Trump -- made the announcement in a Tuesday news conference with reporters outside the New Hampshire Statehouse.

"I’d planned on filing here at the Statehouse but I’m not going to do that," Sanford announced.

Sanford, who launched his primary challenge to spark a conversation about the skyrocketing federal deficits and the national debt, blamed Trump's impeachment inquiry, which has dominated media headlines the past month, for making it difficult to get attention.

"In essence, it’s pulling all the oxygen out of the room such that in at least in Republican circles you cannot have a meaningful debate on what we do about that debt, deficit, what comes next financially in this country," Sanford explained.

Sanford noted that he needs to see "what makes sense, in advancing the idea that I believe in, which is we’re spending too much money in Washington DC. We’re accumulating too much debt and deficits that are going to have a profound consequence in peoples’ lives."

"So I’m going to suspend my campaign and I’m going to look for other ways in which to advance this incredibly timely, important, but now out of season issue," he added.

Sanford first started flirting with a White House run in July and formally entered the race in September.

His exit leaves former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois - a longtime conservative radio host - as Trump’s other two long-shot primary challengers.

“Mark Sanford's voice in the primaries will be missed. A true fiscal conservative, he has advocated the common-sense policies too seldom heard from Donald Trump or anyone else in Washington," Weld noted in a statement.

Asked by Fox News if he'd endorse Weld's campaign, Sanford answered "I don’t know. I take it a day at a time. I will ultimately make my decisions in terms of where I’ll cast my vote or what I support based on whoever is closest to the simple idea...that we’ve got a real spending problem in DC."

Mark Sanford, a Republican former South Carolina governor and congressman, announced plans to suspend his GOP presidential campaign in Concord, N.H. on Tuesday (Paul Steinhauser/Fox News).

Mark Sanford, a Republican former South Carolina governor and congressman, announced plans to suspend his GOP presidential campaign in Concord, N.H. on Tuesday (Paul Steinhauser/Fox News).

Weld's made frequent trips to New Hampshire since declaring his candidacy in April. And Sanford's also campaigned in the state numerous times since August.

But neither has made much headway, according to the most recent poll of New Hampshire's GOP presidential primary.

According to a University of New Hampshire poll for CNN that was conducted late last month, Trump remained the overwhelming front-runner, with 86 percent support among likely Republican primary voters. Weld stood at just 5 percent, with Sanford and Walsh are each at just 1 percent in the survey of likely GOP primary voters.

Sanford was a popular governor in 2009 who was discussed as a potenial 2012 GOP presidential candidate when his week-long disappearance made national headlines. It was later revealed that Sanford was out of the country, having an affair with an Argentinian woman. The episode ended his marriage and derailed the political career of the popular two-term governor who was considered an early leading contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

But politics is full of second chances and the former governor won back his old congressional seat in a 2013 special election. He won re-election in 2014 and 2016. But Sanford, a vocal Trump critic, was targeted by the president in his 2018 re-election and lost a primary challenge to a pro-Trump candidate.

Sanford's departure from the race comes at two Democrats - billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick - are considering launching presidential bids with less than three months to go until the start of the primary and caucus calendar.

Fox News’ Pat Ward contributed to this report.