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S.C. Primary Watch: Sanford a Free Agent in '08

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Gov. Mark Sanford (R) made clear Wednesday in an interview in his statehouse office that he is a free agent when it comes to the 2008 Republican primaries.

Mark Sanford
Mark Sanford backed McCain in the 2000 primary. Will he again in 2008? (AP File Photo)

That news may come as something of a surprise to supporters of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whom Sanford backed in South Carolina's 2000 primary. But the Palmetto State governor insists his decision (or, more accurately, indecision) is not meant as a "slap" at McCain but rather part of a concerted effort on his part to find the candidate in the field truly dedicated to fiscal conservatism.

"I am not committed at this point," said Sanford, who acknowledged that "a long list of characters" considering the 2008 race have reached out to him. "I am really going to look very hard at somebody who will espouse that notion of fiscal discipline and financial stewardship. That would be at the top of my list."

Sanford said he has every intention to pick a candidate in the '08 field at some point. "I'm gonna get involved," he said. "I am in the process of governance because it gives you leverage in terms of trying to push for the ideas you believe in. One of the biggest debates on ideas and where they go next is obviously the presidency."

Assuming he is reelected to a second term this November, Sanford will emerge as one of the two most important GOP political powerbrokers in the state not aligned with a 2008 candidate. Sen. Lindsey Graham is backing McCain. The other uncommitted lawmaker in a statewide post is Sen. Jim DeMint. (Rep. Joe Wilson is with Sen. George Allen (Va.)

Don't expect a Sanford endorsement the day after the November election. He said he wants "to take a complete inventory of who best matches up with where I'm coming from" before declaring support for a 2008 candidate.

For more on The Fix's interview with Sanford -- including his 2006 reelection prospects -- check this space next week.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 23, 2006; 8:04 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Governors  
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Next: S.C.'s 5th District: The GOP's Best Shot at Spratt?

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