COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Mark Sanford says he’s staying put — despite friends’ and political allies’ pleading with him Wednesday to step down in the wake of his latest confessions about an extramarital affair and inappropriate behavior with other women.
Reiterating he has not misused any state funds, Sanford’s staff said the governor will finish out the remaining 18 months of his tenure. Sanford’s spokesman said Wednesday the governor is through talking about his personal life — an obvious effort to move forward and consistent with the belief Sanford can weather this scandal.
“The governor has given a full and truthful account, and he is finished discussing this matter,” said Joel Sawyer, the governor’s spokesman. “He is focused on being governor, on rebuilding his marriage and on building back the trust of South Carolinians.”
Close friends of Sanford who have been in regular contact with him described him as defiant with fellow Republican politicians who have urged him to resign.
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Sanford’s “feet are in concrete” in resisting calls for him to leave office, according to sources who have spoken with him in recent days.
When told his political support has evaporated, Sanford responded to one confidant, “Well, I’ll be here until they throw me out.”
The calls for Sanford to step down grew to a majority of Republicans in the state Senate on Wednesday, and Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett became the first congressman to call for the governor to step down.
“I was pretty blunt with him,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, a Sanford ally who said he called the governor Tuesday and asked him to leave his post.
“I think he’s lost any integrity that he’s had to lead this state and the longer he stays in office the harder it is for us to implement any meaningful agenda,” said Grooms, a gubernatorial candidate who was with Sanford the night he won his gubernatorial election.
WHY HE CAN HANG ON
If the governor has not misused public money and if there are no more bombshell revelations about his personal life, then the odds are in his favor that he can hold on.
Lawmakers acknowledge forcing the governor out is a remote possibility.
-- Lawmakers privately say the governor would have to have broken the law to be forced out of office. SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd has made it clear the governor is not under criminal investigation and there is no evidence of a crime. Lloyd is expected to wrap up his probe today. Unless there is evidence of lawbreaking, talk of impeachment is premature.
-- The General Assembly is in adjournment until January and can only assemble for specific purposes spelled out in a resolution that ended the session. Impeachment discussions are not among the reasons.
-- House Speaker Bobby Harrell could recall the House into session to vote on whether the House should pursue impeachment. A two-thirds vote would be needed, according to the House Clerk’s Office. That again favors Sanford.
All that is left for those who think Sanford should resign is public pressure.
But Republicans close to Sanford think increasing public pressure on him likely would cause him to dig in his heels more.
“Resignation is met with a very hostile reaction,” one source said.
Sawyer would not say whether the governor has brought in an outside crisis management consultant to help him navigate through the controversy.
But ending talk of Sanford’s admitted affair is a crucial step in his attempt to weather this scandal.
Monday, it appeared the governor was on his way back.
His confessional news conference June 24 garnered public support and gave senators pause on whether to ask for his resignation.
Efforts to oust the governor lost even more steam as Michael Jackson’s death took the spotlight off Sanford and questions began to swirl in some political circles about Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s fitness to finish Sanford’s term.
Then came the three-hour bombshell interview with The Associated Press.
In his confessional, Sanford called his lover his “soul mate” and contradicted his earlier statements on the number of times he had seen her. He said he was trying to fall back in love with his wife and admitted to other inappropriate contact with women.
Those revelations caused lawmakers who either had been quiet about the scandal or supportive of the governor to reconsider.
S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, a Sanford ally, met with the governor Wednesday.
“We had a pretty long conversation. I thought it was time that he step down,” Massey said, declining to discuss specifics of the meeting.
Lawmakers who think Sanford should step down can encourage the governor to do so, but ultimately they realize the decision is his.
Their best option is to continue to make a case that a resignation is best for the state.
“When your support is evaporating but your resolve (to stay in office) is increasing, that’s a bad combination,” one source said.