COLUMBIA — Former Gov. Mark Sanford is likely to make a final decision soon on whether to run for the Charleston congressional seat vacated by Tim Scott, according to a close ally.
Chris Drummond, a former Sanford spokesman, put the likelihood of a Sanford run at 70 percent, and said the father of four plans to talk with his children during the holidays about his plans before the final decision on a bid.
Drummond now works as a political consultant in Charleston and has a close relationship with the former governor.
Sanford largely has stayed out of the limelight since leaving office in early 2011, except for serving as an occasional commentator for Fox News.
The two-term Republican's political career previously included aspirations of higher office, but was derailed by his 2009 affair while governor with an Argentine woman, now his fiancée.
It has been an open secret, however, that Sanford in recent months has been readying for an eventual return to politics.
The prospective Sanford revival was accelerated by political dominoes that began falling with the sudden resignation of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint early this month.
Gov. Nikki Haley this week named Scott, of North Charleston, to fill the next two years of DeMint's unexpired term.
Scott is expected to be sworn in on Jan. 3, setting up a special election for Scott's seat in a March primary.
Sanford, 52, has a family farm in Beaufort.
If Sanford does get in, he has access to ready cash. His Federal Election Commission campaign account report, still open from his time representing the 1st District from 1995-2001, officially says he has only about $211 cash on hand.
But a campaign bookkeeper said Friday that's probably a reporting error tied to money being shifted to a certificate of deposit this year. The actual amount Sanford has in the account is around $122,000, she said. He could use that money for a potential federal run.
Sanford also has more than $1,157,000 in his gubernatorial campaign account listed with the South Carolina Election Commission. But under state law, he could not use any of that money for a federal congressional bid unless he gets written permission from each donor.
Otherwise, he could donate the money to charity, a registered political party or to the state's general fund.
If he does launch a comeback, Sanford is expected to face a crowded field of candidates that is continuing to grow and could reach 10 or more.
He would also have to overcome poor ratings in a recent statewide poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.
Only 30 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Sanford, compared to 53 percent who regard him negatively, the poll found.
Among self-identified Republicans, Sanford has 39 percent favorability compared to 44 percent negatives.
The 1st District race will measure opinions of voters only in Charleston and the coastal area, not those statewide.
Sanford has the strong name recognition that usually favors political candidates, and a decent amount of cash. That would seem to give him an immediate advantage in a GOP primary.
But in Sanford's case, that name identification is a double-edged sword, noted Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College and long-time observer of S.C. politics.
Sanford's ex-wife Jenny, who had much stronger poll numbers in the same PPP survey, was among five finalists for the Haley U.S. Senate appointment eventually won by Scott.
Jenny Sanford told the The Post and Courier this week that she planned to take the next week to 10 days to decide whether to seek the 1st District seat.
Mark Sanford has not responded this week to repeated requests for comment by the newspaper.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.