COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has had a lot of indirect help holding on to office in the two weeks since his mysterious disappearance and revelations of a sultry yearlong affair with an Argentine woman.
A law enforcement review found no misuse of public money in the affair. The first lady has been willing to reconcile, and the state Republican Party voted to censure him, rather than asking him to resign.
Political maneuvering over the 2010 gubernatorial race has played a part, too, with some in the GOP reluctant to give any advantage to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who would replace Sanford if he stepped down or was forced out. And it didn't hurt that the nation's attention shifted to the death of pop star Michael Jackson.
"He's ridden out the storm," Robert Oldendick, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina, said of the governor.
Sanford's name is no longer tossed around as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, but he's resolute about finishing the last 18 months of his second term. Any new revelations could shake the state again, but for now it seems Sanford has weathered the scandal.
"Most people would've expected if he was going to be forced out quickly, it would've happened by now," said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.
The father of four disappeared over Father's Day weekend, without his staff or security detail knowing his whereabouts. Upon his return June 24, he confessed he had been in Argentina with his mistress and misled his staff to think he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Later, in interviews with The Associated Press, he called Maria Belen Chapur his "soul mate" and disclosed dalliances _ that he said stopped short of sex _ with other women.
Sanford also said he was trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny Sanford out of a sense of commitment to their 20 years of marriage and young sons.
"She's been key in all of this. If she'd blown up and started threats of a messy public divorce, it might've forced his hand to step down to deal with the issue," Huffmon said.
Sanford spent the Fourth of July weekend with his family in Florida and plans to spend this weekend with them, too, though his spokesman declined to say where.
The governor has spent much of the past two weeks asking for forgiveness, including phone calls to legislators he has antagonized over the years.
"The governor has called many, many people and plans to call many, many more," his spokesman Joel Sawyer said. "He considers it to be lifetime work, and not something that will end in the next few weeks or the next 18 months."
Calls for Sanford to resign ramped up briefly after he revealed to AP he had spent more time with Chapur than previously disclosed. The state attorney general called for an investigation into his travels, and a majority of GOP senators asked him to step down. But the furor subsided after a closed-door censure vote by the party, with leaders saying the public admonishment would be the end of the issue.
A rally to urge Sanford to step down, hosted by Republican National Committee member Glenn McCall, was canceled and a Democratic activist held a protest with a partisan crowd of 60 people instead.
But Sanford has never been known to bow to pressure.
He raised his political profile by refusing to request $700 million in federal stimulus money set aside for South Carolina's public schools and law enforcement, holding firm despite protests, newspaper editorials, lawsuits and the rebuke of Republican legislators. Sanford eventually requested the money after an order by the state Supreme Court.
"Once he decides on a path, he remains committed to it. If he has decided that he will not give in to political enemies and not step down, it would take a lot to wedge him out of the governor's chair," Huffmon said.
Since taking office in 2003, Sanford has constantly criticized his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, even working to get some defeated. Since he doesn't get along with legislative leaders anyway, even some Democrats say Sanford sticking around won't change his governing abilities during his lame-duck session.
The pressure is not entirely off, however.
Sen. Jake Knotts, a longtime Sanford opponent and Bauer friend who brought to light that Sanford was missing, has called for a Senate investigation of Sanford's travels. South Carolina's top police official, Reggie Lloyd, announced last week that Sanford did not misuse state funds for visits with his Argentine mistress but said his agency's review relied on self-reported information from Sanford.
Sanford has reimbursed the state $3,300 for part of a June 2008 trip to Argentina where he saw his mistress, whom he met in 2001 at a dance spot in Uruguay, and says he spent no other taxpayer money to see her.
Knotts said legislators need to take a closer look.
"We Republicans can either condone it or condemn it. If we condone it, we'll have to answer for it," the Republican said. "I think we're shirking the duty of the party by not trying to get to the bottom of it, looking for the easy way out and hoping it will go away."