Morning Fix: Sorting out Sanford
Updated, 8:31 a.m. ET: The State newspaper is reporting that Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) returned to Hartsville-Jackson International Airport Wednesday morning from a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. According to the State: "Sanford said he had not been hiking along the Appalachian Trail, as his staff said in a Tuesday statement to the media."
The whereabouts of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford over the past five days has stoked a bitter battle both within the Republican Party and between the two parties about whether it is a serious problem with implications for his expected 2012 presidential bid or simply an overblown media story that amounts to much ado about nothing.
Opinions varied widely.
South Carolina state Sen. Greg Ryberg (R) called the story the work of "well documented Republican political adversaries of the governor" while South Carolina Adjutant General Richard Eckstrom (R) said that a "mountain was being made out of a molehill."
Stu Rothenberg, a well-known Washington-based political analyst and Fix friend, said the incident highlighted coverage "how little most people in the media know about South Carolina politics and how easy it was for the governor's critics -- and for ambitious state politicians -- to manipulate the media."
Others, including some Republicans, said that Sanford's behavior was newsworthy and revealed the perils inherent in the national spotlight that shines on any 2012 presidential aspirant."
"Every candidate thinking about running for president showed his wife's quote to their
spouse this morning and asked them to PLEASE never make such a
statement . . . ever," said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant who managed former Sen. Bob Dole's (R-Kan.) 1996 presidential bid.
A senior Republican consultant, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said that the Sanford incident "won't help him at all and will hurt him a bit in that it reinforces what most folks think of him, which is that he is so much of a maverick that he is in fact one strange dude."
Democrats, not surprisingly, quickly pounced on Sanford's hiatus -- releasing a Web video that collects the incredulous reaction from a variety of talking heads on the matter.
So, which is it? Mountain or molehill?
In short, it depends on what happens next. Sanford will return to the state today and will almost certainly be pressed by the local media to present his side of the story. Given that Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has alleged that Sanford's staff misled him about the governor's whereabouts, it's hard to imagine that Sanford will be able to get away without either making a statement or holding a press conference to answer questions.
"He's a good man with a successful career in public service who deserves to present his explanation of this before people jump to conclusions," said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist and senior adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential bid.
What Sanford says -- and whether or not reports continue to surface that suggest the hiking the Appalachian Trail narrative is, in fact, not accurate -- will go a long way in determining whether this story is simply a summer distraction or a major problem for the governor's future political prospects.
Wednesday's Fix Picks:
1. Dan Balz on Obama's options open approach.
2. Obama "95 percent" cured of smoking.
3. NRSC in for almost $1 million in Norm Coleman's legal fight.
4. A look at governors acting strangely.
5. Heyoooooooo! RIP Ed McMahon.
MoveOn to Hit DiFi in Ads: Moveon.org, the most powerful political entity on the liberal left, is at work on a new television ad that calls into question Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) statement over the weekend that President Obama doesn't have the votes to pass health care reform. "Democrats should be leading the charge to pass health care reform now, not throwing cold water on the president's plan," reads an email sent to MoveOn members on Tuesday. "It's crucial Sen. Feinstein hears loud and clear that a delay on reform is unacceptable, so we're creating a new ad to run in California." The news of the MoveOn ads came as other liberal groups -- including the Service Employees International Union -- called out Feinstein for her comments. "Her recent comments minimize the urgency of the healthcare crisis in our country and are out of character with her strong leadership for working Americans in the past," said SEIU president Andy Stern in a statement. Feinstein is still theoretically considering a run for governor in 2010 although most political sharps in the state insist she is not running.
RNC Counters ABC: Seeking to present a bit of counter-programming to ABC's health care town hall to be broadcast from the White House tonight, the Republican National Committee will launch a one-day television ad asking for more fair and balanced coverage. "Today a national TV network turns its airwaves over to President Obama's pitch for government-run health care," says the ad's narrator. "Shouldn't this be a bipartisan discussion?" The ad goes on to insist that Obama's push for a so-called "public" option amounts to "putting government bureaucrats in charges...instead of patients and their doctors" and asks viewers to tell Obama to "work with Republicans...and to stop rushing into another government takeover." RNC officials would not disclose how much was being spent on the single-day buy but one source familiar with the buy described it as "small".
Listing Political Lacunae: The Sanford episode got us to thinking about other political disappearing acts. We noted that both former Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) had vanished for a period of days and asked Fixistas for others. As usual you responded. The most commonly mentioned missing pol? New Hampshire's own Gary Dodds who went missing after crashing his car during the 2006 campaign. It was later revealed he staged the accident to draw attention to his candidacy. Smart move.
Tiahrt On TV: Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) has begun running ads touting his opposition to the economic stimulus package, seeking to seize the fiscally conservative high ground in the open seat Senate race from Rep. Jerry Moran (R). The ads, which began running statewide on Monday, castigates President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for having "sold America a bill of goods . . . a so-called stimulus plan" and urges viewers to go to his website to voice their disapproval with the plan. Tiahrt and Moran both voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act when it passed the House in late January but the Tiahrt forces note that their guy is the leading voice to repeal the bill -- which, of course, ain't happening. The Tiahrt-Moran primary is one of the best on the docket in 2010 for a number of reasons but most importantly because the winner is almost certainly going to be a senator. Democrats still don't have a candidate and the Sunflower State hasn't sent a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s.
Rising Stars Gather: The Fix is forever on the lookout for the next big thing in politics -- hence our "The Rising" series of profiles on young up and comers. And so our interest was piqued when we heard about an event in Washington tonight being sponsored by the College Democrats of America Alumni Association. The gathering, which will raise money for the group, will be keynoted by Rep. Kendrick Meek who is running for Florida's open Senate seat. Other special guests include Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Rush Holt (N.J.), Jared Polis (Colo.) and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (S.D.).
Say What?: "If you're going to be a family-values candidate and a family-values politician, and you don't live up to that, I think you should resign." -- Conservative commentator Sean Hannity offers up his thought on the political fate of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)
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