For the past three-plus years, Mark Sanford has served as South Carolina’s 115th governor, packing several administrations’ worth of successes and failures into his first term.

Unemployment has jumped back up, state government has lost its crucial AAA bond rating, business is down, various state agencies are still stinging from huge across-the-board budget cuts, and Sanford was deemed one of the worst governors in America by venerable Time magazine.

Sanford’s woes in the legislature have become legend, as he earned legions of detractors on both sides of the aisle with political stunts like bringing two pigs, “Pork” and “Barrel,” to the Statehouse during budget season. As a result, his major legislative victory, a rarity at that, served only to strengthen the grip state Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) has on politics in Columbia.

Ironically, the first accomplishment Sanford lists on his campaign website bio is streamlining the DMV.

Now with a June 13 primary looming, four men have gathered to try to dethrone the populist/maverick/tightwad governor: fellow Republican Dr. Oscar Lovelace, and Democrats Frank Willis, Dennis Aughtry, and Tommy Moore.

But thanks to his enduring personal charm, the hatred of taxes and governmental waste he shares with voters, and a series of smart decisions — like refilling the state’s “rainy-day” funds instead of creating more spending programs with rebounding tax proceeds — Sanford still stands as the odds-on favorite to be this state’s 116th governor, with only Moore appearing to have more than a ghost of a chance in the November general election.

(Even then, Moore says, Sanford is his own biggest enemy.)

Republican Lovelace is running a true outsider’s race, with limited money, support, and name recognition. The Newberry County physician slams Sanford as more of a politician than a leader, which is how Sanford labeled a hapless Jim Hodges in the 2002 gubernatorial race.

If elected, which would mean a highly unlikely victory in a two-man primary with Sanford, Lovelace would reverse the governor’s “school choice” programs, despite having moved his family to Lexington County for its better schools.

Lovelace explains that as a product of public schools, “from elementary school through the Medical University of South Carolina,” who became student class president of a majority black high school where he was bussed in Columbia, he knows not to “pit the needs of the elderly versus the needs of public education.”

Sounding more like a politician, Lovelace wants to introduce the “three Cs” to economic development — communication, common sense, and cooperation — with a nod to taking care of the small business owner.

Lovelace, “the family doctor running for governor,” could get a handful of votes on June 13, but that will likely represent only a protest vote from disaffected Republicans angry with Sanford’s seemingly imperious ways.

“I believe the guy’s about played out,” says Lovelace.

On the Democratic side of the ticket, Columbia-based attorney Aughtry is easily the race’s most enigmatic candidate, and its darkest horse. When asked to answer the criticism that he is running only to bring casino gambling to South Carolina, Aughtry is a contradiction unto himself.

“I’m not here for the casinos, I’ve never accepted so much as a penny from a casino, and I have no interest in them other than as an alternative way to raise (state) revenues,” says Aughtry, before adding that “the only way Sanford could possibly be defeated this year is if every South Carolinian were to realize what casinos would bring to this state.” Well, that’s as clear as mud.

Democrat Aughtry, who swears he has no moral problem with gambling and that he’s read studies proving that casinos actually reduce crime, sees gambling as a panacea to what ails the state. Casinos, he says, would eradicate property tax, unemployment, and healthcare costs, while providing free college educations to the entire state, among a host of other benefits.

Reminiscent of candidates funded by the video poker industry a few years ago, Aughtry, a last-minute addition to the field anyway, has probably begun his slide back into anonymity already.

Florence Mayor Frank Willis better hope he does better in June than Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. did when he lost his lone gubernatorial primary. But chances are he won’t.

Willis’ strategy of sitting astride the political fence, complaining that state politicians are more concerned about the state moving “left or right, rather than whether we move forward,” seems sound. In a general election, that is.

Should he survive until November, Willis would be able to reach out to Dems and GOPers who have had enough of Sanford’s high-handed hatred of government. But his first race isn’t a general election, it’s a primary where Democrats will likely be voting for whoever seems to have the best chance to defeat Sanford.

But unlike front-runner state Sen. Tommy Moore (D-Aiken), Willis keeps with party tradition and backs abortion rights and says he would vote against adding a gay marriage ban to the state constitution.

Moore’s pro-life, anti-gay positions seem to hearken back to state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum’s failed run for the U.S. Senate two years ago when she seemed to abandon her party’s base beliefs and champion industry protectionism and the death penalty.

This paper pissed off Tenenbaum two years ago when we asked her why she didn’t run with a Democrat platform. And we asked the same question of Moore, who handled the question better, sort of.

Answering from “the heart,” Moore says he is anti-abortion because of his personal and “deep religious beliefs.” Having said that, he tries to backtrack, saying in cases of rape and incest, he would be fine with abortion. This has been a stalwart pro-life defense in the “moderate” Republican playbook for a generation of politicians.

Like the other challengers, Moore remains hypercritical of the state losing its triple-A bond rating, which makes it more expensive for state government to borrow money. But Moore is more specific than most in his criticism, laying the blame at the feet of Sanford alone.

Moore says that Sanford’s plan to cut state income tax during a recession three years back “sent shock waves through Wall Street,” claiming that the governor’s plan would have resulted in a $695-million tax loss before it was modified.

Moore pooh-poohs Sanford supporters’ claims that the bond rating flub was not Sanford’s fault, but that it belonged to the state treasurer. “Isn’t that amazing? Who knew the treasurer was that powerful,” Moore snipes.

Moore also pooh-poohs Sanford’s “hatred” of government, saying that while “all South Carolinians hate waste and inefficiency, most South Carolinians don’t hate government, and most, like I do, believe government can be a partner, which is why I’ve spent 28 years in state government.”

“I’ll never say ‘My way or no way,’ and you’ll never see a pig under my arm while in the Statehouse. And I’ve got better sense than to squeeze a pig, because I know what comes out when you do that.”

Taking one last poke at Sanford, who spent his teen years up on a Beaufort-area plantation after moving to South Carolina from Florida, Moore adds, “I guess Mark didn’t learn much about pigs growing up ‘on the farm.'”

Despite all the rhetoric, and all the opportunities Sanford has provided to his challengers, it’s still the governor’s race to lose.

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