Cover Story: Can Gov. Mark Sanford survive sex scandal?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - Republican leaders from SC Gov. Mark Sanford's own party calling for his resignation.  A majority of Americans think he should resign as well.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson asks can Sanford finish out his term?

One of Governor Mark Sanford's strongest allies  calls for his resignation.

South Carolina State Senator Larry Grooms said the candid comments Sanford made to the A-P Tuesday about his Argentine mistress and his wife -- were over the top -- and sent Grooms over the edge.

Now, Grooms and 13 other lawmakers from Sanford's party, want the governor out.

It's not just lawmakers calling for his resignation. The majority of Americans think he should be gone too.

In a national poll 54-percent of people questioned think Sanford should step down.

44-percent said he should continue to serve South Carolina as Governor.  Sanford has a year and a half left in his second term as governor.  Because of term limits he can't run again.

The question is will he last that long?

Gov. Sanford wrote to his supporters that his story could follow two different scripts.

One... a scandal and the end of office.

Or the other, what he called a "fall from grace" followed by renewal.. rebuilding and growth.

He's trying to follow the second script.. but right now the first is winning.

Last week's bombshell confessional..

A personal apology to his cabinet..

"I'm sorry...."

And now Governor Mark Sanford bearing his heart to the AP.. in interviews over the course of two days in which he admits he "crossed the lines" with other women.  And that there were more encounters with his Argentine mistress than he first acknowledged publicly.

"He's talking too much and thinking too little."

Republican state representative Gary Simrill was one of the few friend Gov. Sanford had in the South Carolina House.

He'd been holding off calling for Sanford's head.. not anymore.

Says Rep. Simrill, "I don't know if it was so much from the first press conference he had.. but what has followed after that. The calamity seems to be and the straw that's breaking the camel's back is what's happened since then."

In his six years as governor, Sanford's managed to alienate members of his own Republican party.

So an announcement that more than a dozen GOP senators-- calling for his resignation-- isn't too surprising.

But his latest admissions are.

Chair of the Winthrop University political science department Dr. Karen Kedrowski says, "He was politically damaged even before this later thing. It certainly will not help his credibility or his ability to bargain with the Legislature if he becomes a national laughing stock."

And that is certainly happening if you watch late night TV.

But Sanford may have the calendar on his side.

It's summertime.. people may not be paying attention.

And the Legislature's not expected to come back into session until January.

Remember Idaho Senator Larry Craig? he was busted in a gay sex sting.. said he would resign.. then recanted and wound up serving out his U.S. senate term.

Which could happen to Sanford.. he has just a year and a half left in office.

And right now Sanford still has the support of this man..

"I'd like to give him the chance and he seems to want that chance."

That's Lindsey Graham.. South Carolina's senior US senator and elder statesman.. whose opinion carries a lot of weight.

How does one expert think it'll play out?

Says political scientist Karen Kedrowski, "I think politicians are personally ambitious. I think he's going to try to stay in office and finish his term."

But what could sink Sanford is if they find he misused state funds pursuing his trysts.. an investigation just opened up into that.. prompted by the soul-bearing interview with the AP.

He also didn't help himself in the interview yesterday saying he would turn over his personal financial records proving he didn't use state dollars.

His office said today...... that's not going to happen.

Could they get him for skipping out of the country and not telling anyone?

That's the dereliction of duty you hear people talking about.  That is an impeachable offense.  It would probably be hard to prove.

At least six newspapers in South Carolina are calling for Sanford to resign.