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In South Carolina, Disbelief At Sanford Actions


According to Mark Sanford's office, the South Carolina government is spending today with his family. Yesterday, Governor Sanford confessed to an affair with a woman from Argentina. He left the state last week on a secret trip to visit her. Sanford, a Republican, has not responded to questions about whether he plans to resign his office - and people in his state are divided about whether he should.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports from Columbia, South Carolina.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Mark Sanford's clandestine journey and public confession introduced South Carolinians to a side of their governor few would've believed existed. Sanford's public persona was quiet and introverted - somebody more likely to spend time reading policy papers than carrying out an illicit affair. For many people, the governor's recent behavior is surprising and puzzling.

Mr. GARRICK TURNER(ph): When he got busted, it was just a shock. I had no idea that it was going to be a full-on affair, a year long.

HOCHBERG: Garrick Turner is a waiter at a restaurant a couple of miles from the state capitol. While he's been intrigued in the past by Sanford's conservative and sometimes libertarian ideology, Turner says the governor now should step aside.

Mr. TURNER: That's on several grounds. Of course, he left his job for five days, no one can get away with that, and he should step down simply for lack - it's a proof that he lacks common sense.

HOCHBERG: Indeed, for a lot of South Carolinians who want Sanford gone, it's not so much because of the affair, but because of the way he tried to conceal it - slipping away to fly to Argentina without informing his family, staff or security detail. But that doesn't bother Paul Langston(ph), a hardware store manager who still supports the governor.

Mr. PAUL LANGSTON: People make mistakes and everybody deserves a second chance.

HOCHBERG: What about the way he disappeared for five days and didn't tell anybody where he was?

Mr. LANGSTON: Well, he was probably trying to figure some things out and how he was going to deal with the situation. If you need to get away you need to get away.

HOCHBERG: Even before this escapade, Sanford was controversial. He's an unyielding fiscal conservative who's vetoed hundreds of spending bills and tried to reject federal stimulus money. That made him a hero among some voters, but frustrated Republicans and Democrats alike who said he was starving the schools and other parts of government. A poll taken just before he revealed the affair showed Sanford with a 50 percent approval rating. But Hastings Wyman of the Southern Political Report suspects that number has now dropped in this Bible belt state.

Mr. HASTINGS WYMAN (Southern Political Report): A lot of people in the south will identify as very fundamentalist or Evangelical Christians. They are a little more conservative in the way they live their lives and in the way they expect their friends and associates to live theirs.

HOCHBERG: While Sanford's campaigns tended to center more on fiscal issues than moral ones, he has attracted strong Evangelical support. And today at the Palmetto Family Council, a faith-based activist group, President Oran Smith says opinions about the governor are mixed.

Mr. ORAN SMITH (President, Palmetto Family Council): Most of our supporters, I think, are very much wanting to accept his contrition. However, there are those who are not quick to forget that this is someone who deceived the state, deceived the law enforcement authorities, deceived his staff in order to have a tryst.

HOCHBERG: Sanford has 18 months remaining in his second term and can't run again. Late this afternoon, his office released a statement saying Sanford would reimburse the state for part of the cost of a trade mission he took to Argentina last year. During that trip, the governor visited the woman with whom he had the affair.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Adam Hochberg
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Adam Hochberg reports on a broad range of issues in the Southeast. Since he joined NPR in 1995, Hochberg has traveled the region extensively, reporting on its changing economy, demographics, culture and politics. He also currently focuses on transportation. Hochberg covered the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, followed candidates in three Presidential elections and reported on more than a dozen hurricanes.