Latest numbers show fewer South Carolinians want him ousted now than did in June

Poll finds sentiment to impeach Sanford waning

rburris@thestate.comDecember 5, 2009 

  • Three big questions

    1.

    Were there a series of deceptions surrounding Sanford's disappearance?

    Sanford admitted to misleading his staff when he said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. But did Sanford also lie to SLED when he ditched his security detail? And did staffers in the office lie to cover up the brewing scandal when questions were raised about Sanford's whereabouts? Will details about who knew what when prove embarrassing?

    2.

    Could the governor be reached while he was in Argentina?

    Sanford allies have maintained the governor could have been reached in an emergency. So far, the governor's office has not explained how. The impeachment resolution charges Sanford with abandoning the state, which it says amounts to serious misconduct. Disclosing which state leaders knew of Sanford's whereabouts and how to reach him will be critical for Sanford.

    3.

    Did the governor steer his 2008 Commerce Department trip to Brazil to Argentina so he could meet his lover?

    Sanford reimbursed the state more than $3,000 for that trip. Commerce Department records could shed some light on whether Sanford took the trip for legitimate business purposes or whether he engineered the trip to see his lover.

  • What's next?

    Impeachment panel meets: The House committee will meet Monday to debate Gov. Mark Sanford's 2008 trade trip to Argentina and whether it was used as a cover for a romantic liaison. Lawmakers also expect to debate and vote on an impeachment resolution.

    Impeachment vote: The full Judiciary Committee also could meet sometime next week to debate - and possibly vote on - impeachment. A vote against impeachment by the full committee most likely would end the possibility of Sanford's removal from office.

    Ethics hearing: A panel of the State Ethics Commission will hear testimony in early January on the 37 ethics charges against Sanford and decide whether he is guilty of any charges.

    Criminal charges: Attorney General Henry McMaster could charge Sanford with crimes or ask a local or federal prosecutor to investigate. McMaster is reviewing the case and has offered no timetable on when he would complete that work.

South Carolinians are no more anxious to see beleaguered Republican Gov. Mark Sanford be impeached today than they were six months ago, according a new poll released Friday.

And voters now are less likely to think Sanford should resign from office than they were in June, a new Rasmussen Reports poll shows.

In June, when news was breaking that Sanford had secretly left the state for five days to visit his lover in Argentina, 40 percent of voters favored impeachment, according to Rasmussen.

Now, after a series of embarrassing confessionals from Sanford, a string of calls for the governor to resign, and an Ethics Commission investigation that charged the governor with 37 violations, even fewer S.C. voters say Sanford should be removed from office.

In a poll conducted this week, 36 percent of voters said they favor impeachment. Forty-nine percent said in the telephone poll taken Thursday that Sanford should not be impeached, meaning nearly half of voters are convinced the governor should not be removed.

The polling is good news for Sanford in a week where it seems less likely lawmakers weighing impeachment will pass a bill seeking to boot him from office.

Voters, the polling suggests, may not see anything to be gained from installing a new, short-term governor. Sanford's term ends in just over a year.

A nearly equal number of people surveyed - 42 percent - think Sanford ought to stay put until his term ends, compared to the 41 percent who said Sanford should quit.

In June, 46 percent of voters said Sanford should resign.

Momentum appears to be on Sanford's side. The more distance between the governor and his five-day disappearance, the less likely it seems he will be removed from office.

A House panel weighing impeachment said this week it would not consider 28 of 37 State Ethics Commission charges against Sanford.

Most lawmakers on the subcommittee also have indicated the remaining nine charges against Sanford may not rise to the constitutional level for impeachment.

Though impeachment is still on the table, committee members now have included in their discussions a possible censure of Sanford in January when the full Legislature reconvenes.

The turning of events is not sudden, said longtime Republican political analyst Neal Thigpen, nor is it a surprise.

"I think the people of this state are just weary of it," said Thigpen, who has been involved at several levels of Republican Party politics for more than 30 years. "This summer, it was most all people wanted to talk about. Now you can't scare up a conversation about it."

Such subtle changes in public opinion are more important to politicians than to any other group, Thigpen said.

So when the Legislature meets in January, the retired Francis Marion University political science professor said he won't be surprised if the General Assembly issues "a reprimand" - barring any unknown critical findings - rather than articles of impeachment.

A January reprimand would provide "a way out" for lawmakers who came out early in favor of Sanford's impeachment, Thigpen said, without clogging up the upcoming new legislative session.

Attorney General Henry McMaster is still investigating whether criminal charges should be brought against Sanford, and the House Judiciary subcommittee considering impeachment is still waiting for several responses from Sanford's office, including answers to whether Sanford was reachable when he left the state. The governor has maintained there always was a way to reach him.

Travel details from the Commerce Department, and security details from SLED also are also pending.

Those reports were expected Friday, but Judiciary Committee attorney Patrick Dennis told The Associated Press those reports may not come in until Monday.

Another factor favoring Sanford in the Rasmussen Reports poll seemed to be the general lay of the current political landscape, both in the state and nationally.

For example, despite months of negative publicity about Sanford, 66 percent of voters in the poll still said they believe Sanford's ethical standards are at least as good as most politicians.

Those figures include high ratings among both women, at 68 percent, and men, at 64 percent.

Also, first lady Jenny Sanford got high ratings in the new poll, with 64 percent voicing a favorable opinion of her, and 29 percent registering a negative opinion.

Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398.

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