Why Sanford's Republican Enemies Hope He Stays

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Jul 02, 2009 6:41 AM
As more information comes out -- and as pressure continues to mount on Gov. Mark Sanford to resign -- waring factions within the Palmetto state are jockeying for position. Already, rumors are swirling that state senator Tom Davis (who formerly served as Sanford's CoS) has begged him to resign and was told point blank by the governor to butt out.

This story won't go away, largely due to Sanford's insistence on talking. "It's not so much the act itself, it's the continual lying," one political operative familiar with the race told me. "You know that tearful press conference he gave the other day – turns out half of it was a lie."

But interestingly (and ironically), almost everyone involved in South Carolina politics is hoping Sanford stays put ... because they all have a stake in his remaining governor.

To understand the interesting dynamic, one must first understand South Carolina politics, which is essentially like WWF wrestling, circa 1984. There are essentially a handful of "families" who run the political campaigns year in and year out. Candidates come and go, but the consultants stay. As such, South Carolina politics is defined more by the consultants than by the candidates. 

For example, Warren Tompkins and Terry Sullivan, the consultants who ran George W. Bush's effort in South Carolina in 2000 and Mitt Romney's in 2008 advises Senator Jim DeMint – and are now supporting Congressman Gresham Barrett for governor. 

Meanwhile, consultant Richard Quinn -- who ran John McCain's South Carolina effort -- is an adviser to Senator Lindsay Graham, and is working on Attorney General Henry McMaster's bid for governor.

For obvious reasons, these Republican families would prefer that Sanford not step down, because that would mean Republican Andre Bauer would ascend to the governorship, thus giving him a leg-up on the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

The consultants also manage most state house races, and have reportedly used this influence to get many of these state-level political leaders to stand by Sanford. Additionally, most of the state-based blogs are merely extensions of these political dynasties, and are used as propaganda tools to spread information (and misinformation).

For whatever reason, conservatives who might otherwise call for a disgraced governor to step down have remained conspicuously silent. The only South Carolina conservative of any consequence to call on Sanford to resign has been National Committeeman Glenn McCall – an African-American Republican who was formerly close to Sanford. Even South Carolina Party Chairman Karen Floyd is being accused by some of endangering Republicans of losing the gubernatorial seat, because of her decision to remain silent.

Interestingly, both Sanford and Bauer lack the sort of in-state "protection," that comes along with allying with a political family. Bauer's chief consultant is Richmond-based Chris LaCivita. Sanford's chief guy is John Lerner, a DC-based strategist. Interestingly, Lerner also is running the gubernatorial campaign of Nikki Haley, a state representative who has been an ally of Sanford. The day of Sanford's now-infamous press conference put out a release criticizing Sanford of his marital dalliances. Earlier in the day, she removed pictures from her website of she and Sanford. Ironically, the gubernatorial candidate being hardest on Sanford is the one he shares an adviser with.

For the record, Bauer has said that he wants Sanford to stay put, though he was the first state-wide candidate to blow the whistle on the fact that Sanford was missing and his staff did not know about his whereabouts.

Carolina being the hardball political state that it is, he will have no shortage of obstacles to overcome on his way to the state house.

Already, Bauer – who is just thirty-nine years old – has come under attack for his youthfulness. His critics cite speeding tickets and a plane crash (the mechanic servicing his single-engine plane was at fault). What is more, because Bauer is single, conflicting rumors that he is a womanizer and gay have sprung up.

The other day I wrote about the winners and losers from the Sanford fallout. One obvious omission was the South Carolina Lieutenant Governor, Andre Bauer). Bauer, of course, would ascend to the governorship if Sanford were forced out. And that would give him a big advantage as he runs for governor in 2010.


Update:  Since this story was written, it has been reported that Rep. Gresham Barrett, who is running for governor, asked Sanford to resign.