U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford says he has no desire to run for governor of South Carolina again. But all signs point to him being able to if he wanted.
And some political watchers say if the 1st District Republican continues to rehabilitate himself, he might even be successful.
"He's an effective campaigner, he has the name recognition and he's definitely in the right party for South Carolina," said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.
Sanford on Friday continued to keep in touch with state issues when he visited a Daniel Island private school. Advocates used the tour to recognize a 2006 expansion of the First Steps program that was passed with Sanford's support as governor.
The effort gives needy children access to full-day, state-sponsored early-childhood schooling. Daniel Island Academy is one of the schools taking part.
Sanford said the invitation to visit had nothing to do with keeping tabs on issues from the past.
"Have I had a long-standing interest in education? Yes," he said. "That shouldn't leave when you go to Congress."
Sanford also is a longtime friend of Susan DeVenny, whom he appointed executive director of South Carolina First Steps while governor. She was at the school, too.
Friday's tour, however, comes on the heels of critical comments from two Lowcountry mayors who say Sanford has shown a penchant for airing his opinions on local and state matters when they say his role should be more federal.
Mayor Bill Collins of Summerville said Sanford shouldn't be interjecting his views into the Interstate 26 median tree-cutting issue. Collins supports the idea as a safety matter; Sanford is opposed for scenic reasons.
Also critical was North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who doesn't think Sanford should be speaking out against a state tax break that North Charleston says will bring in a Bass Pro Shops.
The tax break was passed by the Legislature in 2006, over Sanford's attempted vetoes.
During his Daniel Island visit, Sanford laughed at the prospect of him ever running for governor again.
"Definitely not," he said of a gubernatorial candidacy.
State law indicates it would legally be possible for Sanford to run, if he chose. The S.C. Constitution says "no person shall be elected Governor for more than two successive terms."
Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said their interpretation of the wording is that Sanford would be eligible because he's sat out already after two terms.
"I don't see any clear prohibition against it," Whitmire said, but added that the agency would probably seek an outside legal opinion before issuing a formal statement, since the issue has yet to be raised in the modern age.
University of South Carolina professor of constitutional law Greg Adams was more certain that it was possible.
"It does not prohibit more than two terms if there is a break after two," he said of the state constitution's stipulation.
In terms of being a viable candidate for governor in the future, C of C's Knotts said Sanford's win and return to Congress last year indicates coastal Republicans have forgotten the affair and Argentina trip that clouded Sanford's second term.
"The research shows the public can be pretty forgiving when it comes to scandals," he said.
As far as his re-election to the House of Representatives, Sanford faces no serious opposition so far this year.
"I don't know of any Democrats who have filed or are interested in running for that congressional seat," Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Hricik said Friday.
Sanford returned to his former congressional seat last year after previous 1st District Rep. Tim Scott was appointed U.S. senator by Gov. Nikki Haley, filling the vacancy created when Jim DeMint resigned.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
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