Joel Mowbray

With the implosion of George Allen, movement conservatives no longer have a candidate in the presidential mix that looks and acts like one of them. Even though the field contains several heavy hitters, such as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the GOP grassroots has no one that is a natural fit.

If a small but growing number of conservatives have their way, however, a candidate that could truly excite the base might enter the fray: my old boss and current South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

On paper, a Sanford candidacy seems Quixotic. Entering the White House derby at this point would actually be late in the game, he’s little-known outside South Carolina and Washington, D.C., and his main foil the past four years has been the GOP-dominated legislature.

But if Republican primary voters decide that the 2008 standard-bearer needs to bring the party back to its Reagan roots, Sanford could be the dark horse to watch. The recently re-elected governor could capture conservatives’ imagination with his unrelenting adherence to core principles. Unlike most GOP governors who either pushed their state parties to the left or simply acquiesced to tax or spending increases passed by legislatures of either party, Sanford has battled profligate Republicans at every turn.

When the state House overrode all but one of his 106 spending line-item vetoes in 2004, Gov. Sanford stormed the Capitol the next morning with a piglet under each arm. Red-faced Republicans squealed, but voters loved the bold move. Realizing they couldn’t be quite as wasteful as their counterparts, the Senate sustained seven of the vetoes—but still overrode 99.

Sanford has been rankling fellow Republicans long before arriving in Columbia. As Congressman from 1995-2001, GOP leadership knew that he was beyond their control. In 1999, he and then-Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) used parliamentary procedures to save taxpayers a fortune. The farm spending bill came to the floor with an “open rule”—meaning any germane amendments could be offered. Reps. Sanford and Coburn together drafted 121 fat-trimming amendments, and after trudging through just a few dozen of them, House leadership pulled the entire bill. It was only re-introduced after $1 billion had been carved out.

Though it was exciting to work for Sanford, it wasn’t lucrative. His staff was consistently among the lowest-paid on Capitol Hill, and we were expected to pinch every penny in running the office. But a hypocrite Sanford was not; he slept on a cot in his office—all six years. Taxpayers were rewarded for his frugality. Sanford returned well over $1 million of his office budget to the Treasury during his tenure.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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