By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
With every word South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) utters about his extramarital affair, his would-be successor leaps closer to a job that he wants dearly but that many leaders in the state's fractured Republican Party have been scheming to keep from him.
As the spectacular drama that is unraveling Sanford's political career enters its second week, the boyish Lt. Gov. André Bauer (R) has stood at the ready. Bauer and Sanford do not get along, and Bauer said he has talked with the governor only once since his confession last week.
"The basic gist was that he's 'going to be a better man because of this,' and I told him I was 'praying for he and his family,' " Bauer said in an interview yesterday. "It lasted less than a minute."
Bauer's chances to ascend seemed to escalate yesterday, as Sanford stunned his state again by admitting in an interview that he "let his guard down" and had casual encounters with a handful of women before meeting the Argentine mistress he called his soul mate.
Sanford's continuing confession of adultery, coupled with a request yesterday by the state's Republican attorney general, Henry McMaster, for an investigation of Sanford's travel records to determine whether he misused public money, intensified pressure on the two-term governor to resign after his political hopes had been seesawing.
"A lot of the reticence on [Sanford's] part to step down and a lot of the reticence on the part of others to ask him to step down was because of a distrust in the ability of the lieutenant governor," said Will Folks, Sanford's former gubernatorial spokesman. "I think that perception was turned dramatically today. Right now, people are wondering what on Earth the governor is doing by compounding this."
In an emotional interview with the Associated Press from his State House office yesterday, Sanford said he made physical contact with a number of women but "didn't cross the sex line" with any of them except Maria Belén Chapur. He said he first met his Argentine mistress in 2001 on the dance floor at an open-air spot in Uruguay and that they had a coffee date in New York during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Sanford recalled visiting with her five times over the past year -- more than previously disclosed -- including two romantic multiple-night stays with her in New York.
Soon after Sanford's wife found out about the affair earlier this year, the governor took a spiritual adviser with him to New York to met Chapur for what was to be their farewell visit. Sanford said that Chapur is his soul mate but that he is trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny.
"This was a whole lot more than a simple affair; this was a love story," the two-term governor told the AP. "A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."
Sanford said his encounters with other women occurred on foreign trips he took with male friends to "blow off steam." The trips occurred while he was married but before he met Chapur, he said, adding that he "never crossed the ultimate line" with the women.
In South Carolina, Sanford's new admissions centered attention on Bauer, who has his own record of erratic behavior, and the prospect that it would fall to him to restore public trust has worried some GOP leaders.
"Everybody's holding their breath wondering, 'What if he did become governor?' " said James Guth, a political scientist at Furman University.
Bauer said that it is Sanford's prerogative whether to resign. "It's better for me to sit back and not play a role in his decision-making process," he said. But he added: "It's a dark shadow over our state. Our state needs leadership more now than ever."
Bauer has a lot to gain should Sanford step down. With Sanford term-limited out of office in 18 months, Bauer is among several Republican heavyweights seeking the party's 2010 gubernatorial nomination and could enter the primary election with the trappings of incumbency.
Since Sanford's confession last week, Bauer said, factions of the state's GOP establishment have tried to tar Bauer's reputation.
"It's sad that politics plays out that way," Bauer said. "This isn't about an election that's 18 months from now. It's about if Governor Sanford should resign, who should fill his place?"
Bauer, 40, has made a career of running against South Carolina's establishment -- and winning. Elected to the state legislature at age 26, he became known as an ambitious politician, rising quickly and winning the state's No. 2 position in 2002.
Yet as lieutenant governor, he has become known as much for his personal behavior as for his political record. In 2003, he was charged with driving 60 mph and running two red lights in downtown Columbia. When pulled over, Bauer was so aggressive that a police officer pulled a gun on him.
In 2006, Bauer was stopped by a state trooper who clocked him driving 101 mph on an interstate highway. He used his state-issued radio to tell the officer he was "S.C. 2" -- the code for lieutenant governor -- and was not ticketed. Then, weeks later, Bauer was injured when the single-engine airplane he was piloting crashed and burned.
"He had all of that in his first term and yet managed to get reelected, so that tells you something about what a skilled politician he is," said Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Indeed, Bauer defeated older and more established candidates by appealing to grass-roots voters. "The old joke was that he appeals to little old ladies in the Republican Party," Guth said, adding that his image is that of "a devil-may-care bachelor."
Over the years, Bauer's romantic life has stirred rumors, the latest bubbling up in recent days. In an interview Monday with the State, a Columbia newspaper, Bauer voluntarily brought up the subject of his sexual orientation. "Is André Bauer gay? That is now the story," the lieutenant governor was quoted as saying, adding his answer: "One word, two letters. 'No.' Let's go ahead and dispel that now."
One of Bauer's political advisers said "all the knives and guns are out for André," with "political mafias" fanning inaccurate rumors.
"You see this very well orchestrated and coordinated attack coming from potential opponents in 2010 and the governor's office aimed at him," said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "André didn't fly to Argentina. He didn't misuse taxpayer's money. . . . André's just there."