COLUMBIA, SC — Former S.C. first lady Jenny Sanford said Saturday that she considers herself a long shot to receive Gov. Nikki Haleys appointment to the U.S. Senate seat that opens after Republican Jim DeMints resigns to run a conservative think tank.
Sanford told The State newspaper that she learned she was among five finalists on Tuesday the same day the news broke to reporters from a representative of the governors office. Sanford, who has never held elected office, said she did not seek the post.
I said I was honored to be included on the list and I would seriously consider to serve if appointed, the ex-wife of former Gov. Mark Sanford said. Prior to this opportunity, I was not contemplating a run for office. This is different. Its an appointment.
Despite showing disdain for politics in her memoir Staying True, Sanford said she is prepared to run in a 2014 special election for the final two years of DeMints term and in 2016 for a full six-year term if appointed.
That means campaigning under her own name after years of managing races and staff offices for her husband, who spent six years in Congress and eight years as governor.
I understand the rigors on public officials, Sanford said. I have life experiences that make me suited to handle the challenges.
Sanfords name was the most intriguing among the finalists made up mostly of veterans of elected office. The 50-year-old former Wall Street investment banker was the backbone of her husbands political career, which imploded after the revelation of his affair with an Argentinian woman while in office in 2009.
She always had a role greater than being the first lady, said Joel Sawyer, a GOP political consultant who worked in the Sanford administration for more than six years. Politically, she is a rookie. The jury is out on what kind of candidate she would be. She is a policy-type person. She is a business-type person. I dont know how much she would enjoy (campaigning).
Grateful to her
Haley, a first-term Republican governor, is expected to announce her decision this week.
Her other finalists for DeMints seat are: a pair of GOP congressmen, Tim Scott of North Charleston and Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg; Republican former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia; and state environmental agency director Catherine Templeton of Charleston.
I would consider myself a long shot, Sanford said.
Haley has declined to discuss potential appointees, though she said last week she considered Sanford a confidante that Ive always looked to to just say, What am I doing wrong? and What am I doing right?
Sanford was an early supporter of Haley, embracing the Lexington Republicans candidacy when the then-state legislator was running near the bottom of polls in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. Even as Sanford struggled with her separation from her husband after his affair, she remained a steadfast advocate and friend to me, Haley wrote in her memoir, Cant Is Not an Option, published earlier this year. I will always be grateful to her.
That Haley would consider Sanford for such a significant political job is baffling to some.
They think Haleys logical choice is Scott, a Republican with conservative credentials who would be the first black U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction. The GOP also is trying to build its minority support after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney received less than 10 percent of the African-American vote in November.
Critics of Sanfords inclusion on Haleys short list say the governor is trying to reward her long-time supporter and help set her up for a run for a different office, perhaps Scotts seat in Congress if he is appointed to the Senate.
Plus, despite years of helping her husbands career, voters should not assume everyone who works behind the scenes politically can succeed in front of the podium, pundits said.
I know a lot of campaign managers and chiefs of staff who are far from being qualified to run for office, said Bob McAlister, a media consultant who was chief of staff for the late Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Haley needs to appoint a DeMint successor who will hold the seat, political experts said, especially in the GOP primary in 2014, when the governor also will be on the ballot.
Sanfords reaction that she would seriously consider serving if appointed is not seen by some in political circles as a rousing sign that she wants the Senate seat. Other finalists, including Scott, have said they would accept the appointment.
Sanfords remarks seem to back the image set in her 2010 memoir of someone uneasy with elected office. She wrote about how she didnt want to be involved in politics after her husband won a U.S. House seat in 1994 and that fundraising was not something I ever enjoyed, but it seems a necessary evil when discussing his 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
Colleagues from Sanfords days in the Governors Mansion suggest not reading too much into her apparent tepid reaction.
This job is a game changer, Sawyer said. If (someone was) given a choice to go to the Senate, that would change their thinking.
Sanford still has two school-age children at her Sullivans Island home, but they are teens who possibly could handle a move to Washington.
After all these years, she could put more focus on what she wants, said state Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican who served as her then-husbands first chief of staff.
Intelligent and savvy
Sanford would succeed in the Senate because she digests complex topics quickly and possesses the skills needed to sway colleagues, Davis said.
She is probably the most intelligent and savvy person about politics I know, he said. She will inspire confidence in her colleagues that she knows what shes talking about.
Sawyer dismissed criticism that Sanford lacked the experience needed in elected office to succeed in the Senate.
Jenny brings a strong business background and strong conservative policies, he said. She can be very effective in the Senate.
Haley said last week that experience in elected office would not be a requirement for her Senate appointee.
Sanford said people should not discount her work with her husband in deepening her qualifications for office.
I would suggest that when you campaign and work so closely with someone for so long you build insight and knowledge on issues, more than the average person, she said.
Sanford said she spoke with the governor on Friday, but they talked only about Chamberlain Branch, the mansion supervisor for three administrations who was killed in a car wreck earlier that morning.
Sanford drove to Columbia from her Sullivans Island home Friday and Saturday to console Branchs wife and three children. Sanford said she and the other governors spouses who worked with Branch Michael Haley and Rachel Hodges will announce a college fund for his children this week.
Sanford declined to discuss any political ambitions if she is not appointed to the Senate.
Thats conjecture right now, she said. Lets see what happens (with the Senate).
If she is appointed, Jenny Sanford could meet a familiar face in the 2014 special election. Mark Sanford has expressed interest in running for DeMints seat after the senator moves to head the Heritage Foundation but that was before his ex-wife was named a finalist for the post. Efforts to reach Mark Sanford were unsuccessful.
But some pundits just dont see Sanford vs. Sanford.
They are just floating her name out there to give her credibility as a (future) candidate, S.C. GOP strategist Chip Felkel said.