In the first meeting with his Cabinet since admitting to an extramarital affair, embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford apologized to his staff for letting them down and stressed that they must continue fulfilling their duties.
"Based on the way that I've disapppointed my wife, my boys, close friends, family, South Carolinians at large, there's always a question you have to ask yoursel: What does it all mean?" Sanford told his staff.
Invoking the Bible -- as he commonly does -- the governor told his Cabinet that they still had to fulfill their responsibilities "whether I get it right or wrong on a given day."
Compared to his emotional appearance at Wednesday's press conference, Sanford was much more composed Friday. After the meeting, he laughed and mingled with his staff but declined to take questions from the press.
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who is widely known to dislike the governor, told The Associated Press he met with Sanford Thursday but the two men did not discuss the possibility of resignation. Bauer is one of the many contenders eyeing the governor's seat in 2010. He told the AP that Sanford should stay in office but admitted that he would have an advantage in the election if Sanford resigned.
Experts say taking over the governorship would give Bauer the advantage of incumbency during next year's elections, which would boost his name recognition give him the opportunity to rake in big donations. But at the same time, he would be presiding over a state with rising unemployment and could face immense pressure to turn around South Carolina's economy in a year.
"It's not an unmixed blessing," said Robert Oldendick, an executive director and professor at the University of South Carolina, adding that state lawmakers, including Sanford, are likely still in the process of figuring out their game plans.
It "depends on how events played out. We don't know enough at this point," Oldendick added.
Some state lawmakers say Republicans have opposing interests in Sanford's resignation. Attorney General Henry McMaster is also considered a front-runner in the Palmetto State's elections next year. In the absence of the Senate -- which does not convene until January -- McMaster's office is the only one that can call an investigation into whether Sanford used taxpayer money or breached ethics rules to finance trips he took to meet his mistress in Argentina. But for now, that looks unlikely.
J. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat in the South Carolina House of Representatives, said Sanford's resignation or an impeachment would hurt McMaster's chances if Bauer, his possible opponent, is elevated to the gubernatorial seat -- a concern silently echoed by other possible candidates.
Sanford faced intense media pressure after revealing the details of his affair and asking for forgiveness in a Wednesday news conference, but he told reporters on Thursday that he was not considering resigning. The sudden death of singer Michael Jackson Thursday afternoon has since consumed much of the media coverage and perhaps given the governor some time out of the spotlight to regain his political footing.
Sanford disappeared for nearly a week to Argentina without informing his family, staff, security detail or Bauer, who is in charge should emergency decisions need to be made in the governor's absence.
Many who have called for Sanford to resign raised two questions: Did the governor use money from state coffers to finance his private escapades, and did he break the law by not informing the lieutenant governor?
Despite the discussion surrounding personal political interests, some Republicans have strong words for Sanford.
After a meeting of GOP leaders Thursday at the state capital, state Sen. Jake Knotts called for the governor's resignation and a criminal investigation into his travels.
"He should strongly consider resigning for the good of the taxpayers of South Carolina, and the good of this state," said Knotts.
The governor "talked about how our leaders have stepped away from our core values, and said one thing on the campaign trail or out in the public and did something different in the background," said Glenn McCall, a local representative to the Republican National Committee Thursday, adding that he should resign "for the sake of the party."
Former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson said state Republican officials will want to make sure everything is out in the open.
"I would say that our elected Republican officials are going to want as much disinfectant on this process as they can get," said Dawson.
Former presidential hopeful and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Thursday Sanford should spare himself and his family public scrutiny by stepping down, "not because of his personal behavior, but for putting his personal behavior above the responsibility for being available to govern and lead in the event of a crisis."
Democratic Reaction Mixed
While some Democrats, like Rutherford, have called for the Sanford's resignation, others feel Sanford's unstable political future bodes ill for Republicans and may boost Democrats' chances in the next gubernatorial election.
Not only is Sanford the second GOP member to admit an extramarital affair this month -- Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., being the first -- he was also on the forefront in denouncing President Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
"What the American public cares about is the issues of integrity and the issue of trust, because if they don't trust their lawmaker, they won't trust the laws that the lawmakers create," Sanford said in 1997, blasting Clinton on "Good Morning America" during his impeachment scandal.
Sanford, who has been known to invoke religious rhetoric and the Bible in political matters, resigned from his post as chairman of Republican Governors Association after announcing his affair.
ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos notes that Republican politicians have generally fared better than their Democratic counterparts after sex scandals.
While Sanford and Ensign show no signs of resigning their posts, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer left his job after winning a landslide election when he got caught in a prostitution scandal. And former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey also resigned after he admitted to an affair with a male staff member.
Sanford Says 'No' to Resigning
Sanford spent most of his time Thursday visiting with his family at their beach home on Sullivans Island. Asked by reporters whether he was resigning as he was leaving, Sanford shook his head and said "No." His wife, Jenny Sanford, said her priority is to work on the family and that Sanford's political future is his business.
On Thursday, Sanford promised to repay the state for a 2008 business trip to Buenos Aires, admitting that he met with the other woman while he was on the taxpayer funded trip.
The dates of that trip matched dates on steamy e-mails released Wednesday between the governor and the woman, identified as Maria, with whom he had an affair. It appears that the two were sexually intimate during the visit.
"While the purpose of this trip was an entirely professional and appropriate business development trip, I made a mistake while I was there in meeting with the woman who I was unfaithful to my wife with," Sanford said in a statement released this afternoon. "That has raised some very legitimate concerns and questions, and as such I am going to reimburse the state for the full cost of the Argentina leg of this trip."
According to the South Carolina Department of Commerce, Sanford's airline tickets alone cost $8,687, and included flights to different cities in Brazil and Argentina. The only taxpayer funds used for any of the Argentina portion of the trip were for Sanford and Commerce Project Manager Ford Graham, the department said.
The governor's office said he paid for last week's trip -- his most recent visit to Argentina -- from his own pocket, and that "he plans to stay on as governor, and is going to focus on building back the trust of South Carolinians," adding that the governor "is spending time with his family" today.
Governor Working On Reconciliation With Family
Sanford said in the press conference Wednesday that his wife of nearly 20 years was aware of his affair before he left for Argentina, and that the family had been trying to work through the situation for "about the last five months."
Jenny Sanford said she asked Sanford to leave two weeks ago and not contact the family. But while she clearly expressed anger at the news' damage on their four sons, she hinted that she was willing to forgive her husband and that "this trial separation was agreed to with the goal of ultimately strengthening our marriage."
The couple started their careers on Wall Street, where Jenny Sanford was a vice president in mergers and acquisitions at the investment bank Lazard Freres, the Associated Press reports. The couple met in the Hamptons, Long Island, married and headed to South Carolina.
Across the state, embarrassed residents say they're not sure which bothers them more -- his absence or his infidelity. South Carolinians have mixed views of Sanford's affair.
"Here you are cheating. That doesn't stand right with me at all as a woman," Zippora Gregory told ABC News.
"It's happened in politics before and I'm sure it's never going to end," said Camillo Miller.