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Katie Arrington tops Mark Sanford in Congress race, Trump credits his involvement

Katie Arrington speaks after defeating Mark Sanford for GOP nomination in 1st Congressional District race (WCIV)

Katie Arrington handed incumbent Mark Sanford his first ever political loss Tuesday, becoming the Republican nominee for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.

“Like I said in the beginning this isn't a me, this is a we moment right now,” Arrington told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night in a victory speech.

While votes from one Charleston County precinct still hadn't been counted as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, Arrington has an insurmountable lead of 2,661 votes. The Associated Press called the race for Arrington shortly after 12 a.m. Wednesday.

Arrington claimed 50.56 percent of the vote, compared to Mark Sanford’s 46.49 percent. Dimitri Cherny received 3 percent of votes.

President Donald Trump is crediting his Election-Day tweet in part for the defeat Sanford, who has been critical of his administration.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that his advisers didn't want him to get involved in the Republican primary, thinking Rep. Mark Sanford "would easily win."

But Trump says Rep. Katie Arrington "was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot."

"It was very interesting that President Trump chose to wade into this particular election,” said Scott Buchanan, professor of political science at The Citadel. “It makes me wonder if he had some data that was giving him an indication that ... Sanford was going to lose."

Arrington narrowly defeated Sanford after Trump tweeted that Sanford had been unhelpful, adding, "He is better off in Argentina."

That was a reference to Sanford's surprise disappearance from the state as governor, which he later revealed was to further his affair with an Argentine woman.

Sanford's loss highlights intense divisions among the GOP in the Trump era.

Sanford's voting record is generally conservative, but his criticism of Trump as unworthy and culturally intolerant made him a target of Trump and his supporters.

Sanford also had opposed Trump on offshore drilling along the east coast, and the expansion of access to military equipment for law enforcement.

Arrington blasted Sanford as a "Never Trumper," and Trump tweeted a startlingly personal attack hours before polls closed, calling Sanford "MIA and nothing but trouble ... he's better off in Argentina."

Even for a political figure with no shortage of confidence in challenging party decision-making, the attack was a bold case of going after a sitting member of Congress. It's almost certain to make other Republicans even more reluctant to take him on, even as Trump stirs divisions on trade, foreign policy and the Russia investigation.

Sanford said Tuesday night that "I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president."

Sanford had never lost a political race in South Carolina, and his defeat Tuesday was an abrupt end to a roller-coaster political career. Despite the scandal over the affair, he completed his second term as governor, and voters sent him to Congress two years later.

In her victory speech, Arrington asked Republicans to come together, saying "We are the party of President Donald J. Trump."

Arrington told ABC News 4 she has work to do before November’s election.

“We’ll be taking our message throughout the district. I will be talking to communities that have not heard the Republican message,” she said. “I will campaign in places the Republican party has not gone and I will tell them my story.”

She’ll run against Democrat Joe Cunningham. He defeated Toby Smith with 71.5% of votes.

Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont, Meg Kinnard and Christina Myers contributed to this report, along with WCIV's Brodie Hart and Drew Tripp.

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