- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. | South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has had a lot of indirect help holding onto office in the almost three weeks since his mysterious disappearance and revelations of a yearlong affair with an Argentine woman.

A law enforcement review found no misuse of public money in the affair. The first lady has been willing to reconcile, and the state Republican Party voted to censure him rather than ask him to resign.

Political maneuvering over the 2010 gubernatorial race has played a part, too, with some in the Republican Party reluctant to give any advantage to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who would replace Mr. Sanford if he stepped down or was forced out. It didn’t hurt, either, that the nation’s attention shifted to the death of pop star Michael Jackson.

“He’s ridden out the storm,” said Robert Oldendick, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina.

Mr. Sanford’s name is no longer tossed around as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, but he’s resolute about finishing the last 18 months of his second term. Any new revelations could shake the state again, but for now it seems Mr. Sanford has weathered the scandal.

“Most people would’ve expected if he was going to be forced out quickly, it would’ve happened by now,” said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.

The father of four disappeared over Father’s Day weekend without his staff or security detail knowing his whereabouts. Upon his return June 24, he confessed he had been in Argentina with his mistress and had misled his staff to think he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Later, in interviews with Associated Press, he called Maria Belen Chapur his “soul mate” and disclosed dalliances — which he said stopped short of sex — with other women.

Mr. Sanford also said he was trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny Sanford, out of a sense of commitment to their 20 years of marriage and young sons.

“She’s been key in all of this. If she’d blown up and started threats of a messy public divorce, it might’ve forced his hand to step down to deal with the issue,” Mr. Huffmon said.

The governor has spent much of the past few weeks asking for forgiveness, including phone calls to legislators he has antagonized over the years.

“The governor has called many, many people and plans to call many, many more,” spokesman Joel Sawyer said. “He considers it to be lifetime work, and not something that will end in the next few weeks or the next 18 months.”

Calls for Mr. Sanford to resign ramped up briefly after he revealed to AP that he had spent more time with Miss Chapur than previously disclosed. The state attorney general called for an investigation into his travels, and a majority of Republican senators asked him to step down. However, the furor subsided after a closed-door censure vote by the party, with leaders saying the public admonishment would be the end of the issue.

The pressure is not entirely off, however.

Sen. Jake Knotts, a longtime Sanford opponent and Bauer friend who brought to light that Mr. Sanford was missing, has called for a Senate investigation of Mr. Sanford’s travels. South Carolina’s top police official, Reggie Lloyd, announced last week that Mr. Sanford did not misuse state funds for visits with his Argentine mistress but said his agency’s review relied on self-reported information from Mr. Sanford.

Mr. Sanford has reimbursed the state $3,300 for part of a June 2008 trip to Argentina where he saw his mistress, whom he met in 2001 at a dance spot in Uruguay, and says he spent no other taxpayer money to see her.

Mr. Knotts said legislators need to take a closer look.

“We Republicans can either condone it or condemn it. If we condone it, we’ll have to answer for it,” the Republican said. “I think we’re shirking the duty of the party by not trying to get to the bottom of it, looking for the easy way out and hoping it will go away.”

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