As dust settles on the mountainous trails of metropolitan Buenos Aires, the City Paper takes a look at who benefits and who loses out in the Sanford scandal.
Personally: Devastating. Politically: Transformative. If Jenny Sanford wants a career in politics, she’s got it. The civilized, yet pained way she responded to the entire ordeal has left a good impression with many voters, particularly social conservatives happy to see her trying to rebuild her marriage. It didn’t hurt that nearly every mention of Jenny Sanford included allusions to the powerful role she’s played in her husband’s many campaigns. She came out of this looking like a hurt, but determined matriarch. And we know how far these women can go — just ask Hillary. College of Charleston political science professor Jeri Cabot warns there will be a few voters who would see her personal decisions as politically motivated if she heads for the ballot. But, for the most part, Jenny Sanford’s star is on the rise.
Sen. Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell (both Charleston Republicans) have often had a difficult time wrangling the governor on a number of issues, particularly as it relates to fiscal policy. With Sanford’s soapbox pulled out from under him, the legislature will essentially be getting a pass in regards to high-profile opposition. Sanford himself has suggested that he’ll be eating a good bit of humble pie in this last legislative session. McConnell is also sure to move for another look at the state’s succession policy in order to preserve his powerful position, and Harrell may be best positioned as the new state GOP leader, at least until 2010.
While everybody and their mother was turning over rocks on the Appalachian Trail searching for Gov. Mark Sanford, a reporter for The State newspaper traveled four hours to sit in front of an airline gate and wait for the governor to get off a plane from Argentina. What happened next was likely the key moment that turned this story from a bizarre wilderness adventure to one of the most revealing and intriguing political sex scandals since Larry Craig stuck his hand under a bathroom stall. The Associated Press also had a few good weeks. Coastal reporter Bruce Smith got an exclusive interview with Jenny Sanford that dove deeper into her husband’s betrayal. And the Columbia bureau got the infamous interview with Gov. Sanford where he offered further confessions about other women and showed that he was still very much in love with his mistress. It was proof that reporters can still pull in readers, as long as you give them something worth reading.
State Sen. Jake Knotts
The Lexington Republican is about as loopy as Sen. Robert Ford (D-Imaginary gambling boat in Charleston Harbor), but Knotts was the one that got the ball rolling on the story of the missing governor. He’s kind of like the National Enquirer. Everybody dismisses the old rag until it gets a really juicy story right. Then, when the next kooky story comes out, it’s a little more believable. But Knotts still could be facing opposition from the right when he’s up for election again in 2012, Cabot says.
During Tea Party events on Tax Day, libertarians were shouting “president” as Gov. Mark Sanford took the mic to offer conservative platitudes certain to make frugal women swoon. Little did those ladies know just how available this married man was. Sanford’s political career is toast after abandoning the state for nearly a week and admitting to at least one taxpayer-funded rendezvous with his mistress, along with hypocritical hook-ups with an undetermined number of women in the heat of President Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal. He lost the trust of South Carolina voters and what little clout he had in the state legislature. Publishers for the book that he was supposed to be writing on the Appalachian Trail canceled the deal. For his most committed supporters, the ordeal begs the question of whether he can lead them out of the woods and whether he was even in the woods to begin with.
It’s obvious that Sanford has left this ship without a captain, but it would be laughable to suggest that there will be some sort of seismic shift in political destinies due to Sanford’s scandal. That said, his continued presence leaves a festering boil on the GOP as continued revelations drip out week after week. Legislative leadership has balked at calling members back to Columbia for a special session to deal with the matter, but opponents are certain to continue sharpening their knives until they can pounce in January. And Sanford’s fall will likely compound even the slightest scandals lurking in the closets of Republican candidates — bigoted country club memberships and other Statehouse infidelities are the first things that come to mind. “It will be hard for reporters not to make the linkage,” Cabot says.
South Carolina residents
The state certainly comes out of this looking more worldly than it did before, just not in a good way. Revelations in e-mails suggest that Sanford missed opportunities for growing business in South Carolina when he took his super-secret trip to Argentina. It’s evident that South Carolina wasn’t on Sanford’s mind in the past year, and it will be difficult for him to focus his attention on job creation as he tries personally to repair his marriage. And then there’s the slow drip of information coming out of continued media investigations, like more than $30,000 in upgraded airline travel for the governor while his staff flew coach. “And we (state employees) get lectured about cutting the budget and frugal travel,” Cabot says.
No Better, No Worse
GOP Gubernatorial Hopefuls
It’s a mixed bag for these folks, but nobody really came out of this thing better than they were before. Lt. Gov. André Bauer looks to have missed a much-needed opportunity for some on-the-job experience. Attorney General Henry McMaster tried to rise above the scandal, only to get dragged into it. Congressman Gresham Barrett stood on the sidelines as second-tier candidates like state Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Dorchester) got national press time. And state Rep. Nicki Haley’s campaign faces a new hurdle now that her biggest cheerleader seems more interested in Argentinian tan lines than South Carolina unemployment lines.
They didn’t mind beating up on Sanford before the scandal and they certainly have gotten some punches in since it broke. Take for example state Senate Democratic leader John Land’s statement back when we still didn’t know where Sanford was: “We’ve been concerned by the governor’s erratic behavior for some time. … I hope he is safe and that he contacts the First Lady and his family soon.” 10 out of 10. The only problem is that Democrats are at such a disadvantage in South Carolina that it will be difficult for them to take the reins due to this one scandal. They’ll end up winners if they can capitalize on potential fund-raising and excite prospective candidates. “Let’s see what they can do with it,” Cabot says.
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