COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Gov. Mark Sanford delivers his last state-of-the-state address this week, the beginning of the end for a Republican once considered presidential material who has lost nearly everything except his job over an affair with an Argentine woman.
The speech Wednesday will be less a victory lap than a testament to his political survival. The text will not be released until just before Sanford shows up in the ornate House chamber, a practice he has followed for years. Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said the speech will include an apology for the affair but move on to broader issues, including restructuring government, cutting state spending and overhauling the state's unemployment agency.
That Sanford will be there to give the speech at all reflects a combination of politics, lucky timing, and the fortitude to keep going when another shamed politician might simply have stepped down.
The governor disappeared on a secret trip to Argentina for five days in June and returned to confess an affair with the woman he tearfully called his soul mate. He had told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Even as political power brokers called for Sanford to quit, they knew keeping him in office, weakened by the scandal, would affect the 2010 governor's race less than replacing him with a lieutenant governor already campaigning for the job.
Sanford was also helped by timing. His confessions came while lawmakers were on break from the Legislature and could not immediately react. Current events including the battered economy and Michael Jackson's death focused public attention elsewhere.
Democrats and Republicans in the House called for him to resign, as did the state's Republican Party hierarchy. Sanford refused and has instead spent the past eight months apologizing. His wife has filed for divorce -- a move he is not contesting -- and he says his political career is over. He could be fined over a state Ethics Commission investigation of his travel practices and the state attorney general is deciding whether to bring criminal charges.
"Most people don't want to go down the road that the governor chose in terms of hanging on," said House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce. "But I think that's part of his personality and that's part of his nature."
The House refused to impeach him, though it did formally rebuke him last week for bringing "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" to himself and the state.
Now legislators and the public seem resigned to having him around for the 51 weeks remaining in his second and final term.
Even without the scandal, he could not have sought a third straight term. And he had already antagonized many lawmakers.
In recent years, fewer and fewer have attended Sanford's state-of-the-state addresses. He has often fought with them, famously carrying defecating piglets to the doors of the House to protest spending after they overrode his budget vetoes with little discussion. He has battled them in court, including a fight last year to bar the state from getting federal stimulus money.
But this year's audience will likely be larger. The speech will undoubtedly include pitches for the policy agenda that Sanford begged voters to allow him to salvage: tax reform, cutting state spending and streamlining government operations. The state's budget is a wreck thanks to a record 12.3 percent unemployment rate in November, one of the nation's highest.
Some lawmakers say they'll be looking for something more: his apology.
"I would hope that the governor would apologize for his past actions and the embarrassment that he's brought to the state of South Carolina; ask for forgiveness from the citizens, his family, his Lord," said House Minority Leader Harry Ott.