Sanford's political star rising

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is interviewed Wednesday after arriving at the 2008 Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami. GOP governors gathered for a three-day conference.

Gov. Mark Sanford won his first national election Friday.

By the looks of it, being voted chairman of the Republican Governors Association won't be the two-term South Carolina governor's last ride on the national stage.

Sanford was about the only one in political circles who missed the buzz about this future Friday, as the GOP tries to find new leadership to pick itself up from a devastating Election Day defeat. The Washington Post dropped his name in a story Friday on a short list of potential GOP candidates for president in 2012.

He hadn't read it. He'd have to find a copy.

So, is he interested in the job?

Sanford: pause.

And finally, "I've learned that you never say never in life. My time in politics has been a strange collision of doors opening. It's not where I'm aimed, not where I'm focused, but you never say never."

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican, said he's happy for his longtime friend. They served in Congress together in the 1990s.

"Mark's election as head of the Republican Governors Association is a big personal honor for him," Graham said. "It speaks well of Mark because his colleagues see in him leadership qualities that will help rebuild the Republican Party. From the South Carolina point of view, we're all very proud of what Mark's been able to accomplish. This is a feather in South Carolina's hat. I know Mark will do a great job trying to expand our party's base and help rebuild the party.

"I think he is truly one of the Republican Party's young rising stars," Graham said.

Sanford's been doing a lot recently that will raise his national profile, including testifying before Congress in October to oppose the bailout plan and a CNN commentary earlier this week that highlighted his conservative values. Someone even created a Facebook page dedicated to "Mark Sanford President 2012."

Legislators, though, say privately that Sanford has been gearing up for a higher political office for quite some time and his public posturing is the source of a lot of their infighting.

Neal Thigpen, a political science professor at Francis Marion University, said much of what Sanford's known for in South Carolina is a push for ideologically driven principles that creates constant friction with the Legislature, and for that reason many people will be happy to see him leave the state.

"There's a number of people, particularly among the legislators, who believe that he's been a one-man wrecking crew in the state," Thigpen said.

Still, Sanford's abilities should not be taken for granted, Thigpen said. He came out of nowhere to win a seat in the U.S. House and easily won a first and second term as governor.

"You're crazy to bet against this guy," Thigpen said.