Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday he’s been having an affair with a woman he visited on a secret trip to Argentina and said he’ll resign as head of the Republican Governors Association. Sanford, a rumored 2012 presidential candidate, refused to say whether he’ll leave office.
“I’ve let down a lot of people, that’s the bottom line,” Sanford said at a news conference. He said he’s known the woman about eight years, but their relationship turned into something more a year ago while he was on an economic development trip to Argentina.
Sanford, a 49-year-old father of four, choked up during remarks to reporters. He said his wife has known about the affair for the last five months.
Sanford revealed Wednesday morning that he’d gone to Argentina for a seven-day trip. For two days after reporters starting asking questions, his office had said he had gone hiking on the Appalachian Trial.
Meanwhile, first lady Jenny Sanford had told The Associated Press she did not know where her husband went for the Father’s Day weekend.
First elected governor in 2002, the former real estate developer has more than year remaining in his second term and is barred by state law from running again.
A former three-term congressman, Sanford most recently snared headlines for his unsuccessful fight to turn aside federal stimulus cash for his state’s schools. His vocal battle against the Obama administration — and libertarian, small-government leanings — won praise from conservative pundits. Ultimately, a state court order required him to take the money.
Sanford’s announcement came a day after another prominent Republican, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, apologized to his GOP Senate colleagues after revealing last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer and was resigning from the GOP leadership.
Sanford was born May 28, 1960, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the eldest of four siblings. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Furman University in 1983 and a master’s of business administration from the University of Virginia in 1988.
After working for a couple of years in the financial world in New York, he returned to South Carolina and said he was shaped by his summers working on the family plantation. He served in the U.S. House for three terms before honoring a term limits pledge and leaving office in 2001.
In 2002, he defeated incumbent Democrat Jim Hodges by 4 percentage points to become governor and won re-election in 2006, beating Democratic state Sen. Tommy Moore.
As governor, Sanford has had seemingly endless run-ins with the GOP-dominated Legislature, once bringing pigs to the House chamber to protest pork barrel spending. He also put a “spending clock” outside his office to show how quickly a proposed budget would spend state money.