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S.C. Gov. Sanford Admits to an Affair

Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina rose through the Republican ranks over the past decade, from congressman to governor to potential 2012 presidential candidate. His admission of an extramarital affair - and the bizarre hoopla preceding it - has likely put an end to his ascension.

Over the past year, he said, his relationship with the woman in Argentina "developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence, I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. . . . And all I can say is that I apologize."

Late yesterday, the State, a South Carolina newspaper, published e-mails between Sanford's personal account and the woman it identified as "Maria" in Buenos Aires. The newspaper said it obtained the messages in December, but did not explain why it waited to publish them.

Last July 10, Sanford wrote: "You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that is so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself . . . in the faded glow of the night's light -- but hey, that would be going into sexual details."

The day before, Maria wrote Sanford: "You are my love . . . something hard to believe even for myself as it's also a kind of impossible love, not only because of distance but situation."

Sanford's office declined to comment on the e-mails. The governor avoided questions yesterday relating to the status of his marriage. He said he will seek reconciliation, which he called "a continual process, all through life, of getting one's heart right in life."

Sanford referred obliquely to receiving spiritual guidance from a Christian bible study group in Washington that he identified only as "C Street." The group holds private weekly prayer and counseling meetings at a Capitol Hill home shared by several members of Congress.

In Columbia, yesterday's news conference was stunning.

"It was the most bizarre happening in this state since World War II," said Jack Bass, a political scientist at the College of Charleston. "The question of his resignation is likely to come up."

The tall, tanned and rail-thin Sanford usually wears khakis and loafers and is a man of ritual. Commentators talk about his "surfer dude" accent, and indeed he is a windsurfer. When running for governor, he often insisted on eating at Taco Bell or Steak 'n' Shake, a Southern fast-food chain. He apologized about "the extravagance" of campaign events, even when they were far from that.

Sanford is the son of a prominent heart surgeon who moved his family from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to a South Carolina plantation when Sanford was in high school. He and his siblings slept in the same bedroom with his parents because his father wanted to save money by running only one air conditioner.

In Congress from 1995 to 2001, Sanford was a maverick. In 2000, he cast the lone "nay" vote more times than any other member of the House except Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). During seven years as governor, Sanford frequently sparred with leaders of both political parties. He delighted in using his line-item veto powers to slash measures passed by the state legislature, but lawmakers -- not taking kindly to that habit -- frequently overrode him.

The legislature and the state's Supreme Court overrode Sanford's attempts to block the state from accepting stimulus funding.

"Politically, he is very strong-willed and doesn't like to negotiate differences when you have differences on a bill," said state House Speaker Robert W. Harrell Jr. (R).

State Sen. John C. Land III (D), South Carolina's longest-serving lawmaker, said Sanford "is done politically," because in the past he has been "holier than thou." Sanford called on President Bill Clinton to resign over his affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

State politicians are already distancing themselves from Sanford, including Rep. Nikki Haley (R), the candidate widely seen as his handpicked successor. Yesterday something disappeared from her Web site: the governor's picture.

Staff writers Alec MacGillis, Ben Pershing, Paul Kane, Chris Cillizza and Ed O'Keefe, polling director Jon Cohen and staff researchers Alice Crites and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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