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S. C. Gov. Sanford Admits Affair, Trip To Argentina

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I'm David Greene.

The scene yesterday in South Carolina was familiar. A politician stood in front of the cameras, confessed to embarrassing his family and constituents, then fended off questions about the future. South Carolina's Republican Governor Mark Sanford admitted he had a year-long affair with a woman from Argentina. We'll have analysis on the political fallout in just a moment. First we have this report from NPR's Adam Hochberg.

ADAM HOCHBERG: With his tearful press conference yesterday, Mark Sanford added his name to the long and constantly growing longer list of politicians who have gone public about their infidelity. But Sanford's political problems go beyond his marital indiscretions. He also faces criticism for his clumsy effort to hide his affair, which included disappearing from the country for five days starting last Thursday without telling his family, staff or security detail where he had gone. Yesterday, Sanford called his actions wrong and selfish and said he'll begin traveling South Carolina to restore his reputation.

Governor MARK SANFORD (Republican, South Carolina): You know, if I think about this process, now (unintelligible) begin at a family level, begins with the family of South Carolinians. So that means me going one by one and town by town to talk to a lot of old friends across the state in what I've done and indeed asking for their forgiveness.

HOCHBERG: People who know the governor weren't necessarily surprised when he went missing last week. He's always been something of a loner and when his staff said he had gone hiking by himself in the Appalachian Mountains, it seemed to fit his character. But news that he'd really gone to Argentina to meet his mistress came as a shock to many of his friends and supporters, people who know the governor as a conservative family man, a father of four, and a soft-spoken policy wonk. Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard is a Republican consultant and a long-time Sanford backer.

Professor DAVE WOODARD (Clemson University): I think it's discouraging for anybody in the Republican Party to see somebody (unintelligible) discourages a South Carolinian. I mean I knew Mark Sanford. I worked for him. I mean I helped him, gave him money. Now then you have a certain sense of disappointment.

HOCHBERG: That disappointment also extends outside South Carolina, as Sanford was becoming known nationally as a rising young Republican star and perhaps even a future presidential candidate. He was head of the Republican Governors Association. And he bolstered his credentials as a fiscal conservative this year by waging a high-profile fight against the federal stimulus package. But his upwardly mobile reputation vanished yesterday almost as quickly as he did last week. After revealing the affair, he stepped down from his Governors Association position. And Woodard wonders if Sanford will be able to hang on as governor.

Prof. WOODARD: If he and Jenny Sanford were able to reconcile and they were to go sort of around the state and ask for the support, I think they would probably get it. But I don't sense genuine reconciliation or togetherness with he and his family. So he may have to resign or quit or something like that.

HOCHBERG: Sanford has a year and a half left in his second term and state law prevents him from running again. He didn't answer questions yesterday about whether he plans to resign, but some Democrats are calling on him to do so. State Representative Todd Rutherford called Sanford's behavior an embarrassment to the state.

Representative TODD RUTHERFORD (Democrat, South Carolina): I don't think that most people in South Carolina have a problem with the fact that he had an affair. We do believe that that is between he and his wife and his kids. But I don't believe that having your staff lie or you're lying about your whereabouts, disappearing, that all of that in the aggregate can be left and we leave him as governor of South Carolina.

HOCHBERG: While the criticism from Democrats might be expected, Sanford also has few allies among his fellow South Carolina Republicans. He has battled for years with the state's Republican legislative leadership. And this year's just-completed session was especially contentious. While Republican leaders were generally conciliatory in their reactions to Sanford's confession yesterday, it's unlikely that many would be heartbroken if he decides to step aside.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adam Hochberg
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Adam Hochberg reports on a broad range of issues in the Southeast. Since he joined NPR in 1995, Hochberg has traveled the region extensively, reporting on its changing economy, demographics, culture and politics. He also currently focuses on transportation. Hochberg covered the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, followed candidates in three Presidential elections and reported on more than a dozen hurricanes.