titanically screwed

It’s obvious by now that S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford’s high-profile personal indiscretions – as well as his PR meltdown and the specter of ongoing investigations into his administration – will be a major drag on the Republican ticket in 2010.

Democrats were already poised to have a field day with the splintered, hypocritical and ineffective GOP – and Sanford’s seemingly incurable bone-headedness continues to be a gift-wrapped mallet for Democrats to hammer Republicans with even harder.

But before we get to the 2010 general election, Sanford’s dramatic collapse will also play a significant role in the June 2010 GOP primary election – and right now we can see no political calculus that doesn’t have S.C. Rep. Nikki Haley suffering the most (at least initially) from the “Luv Gov’s” little “hike along the Appalachian Trail.”

Branded as the “reform candidate” in the race, Haley was banking (literally) on Sanford’s financial and popular support – which prior to his Maria Belen Chapur meltdown represented formidable assets in a race against three well-known establishment candidates, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster.

In fact, a top strategist to one of those “Big Three” GOP gubernatorial campaigns told FITS recently that prior to Sanford’s meltdown, his client was preparing for a runoff election with Haley next summer to decide the GOP nomination.

For his part, Sanford made it abundantly clear that Haley was his main squeeze (politically-speaking), and sources tell FITS that the governor was poised to pour millions into Haley’s race provided she raised a sufficient amount of money on her own, initially.

Then along came the Chapur iceberg, and the governor’s “hard-to-starboard” misdiagnosis of how to best handle the situation. The result? The slow sinking of the Sanford brand – which seems to take on a little more water every day with each new allegation.

How has that “drip drip drip”  impacted Haley’s fund-raising?

Yeah … it hasn’t been good, from what we hear, and we’re also told that Haley’s top consultant (Sanford advisor Jon Lerner) is in complete and total denial about how the “Sanford factor” will impact his new client’s candidacy, choosing to adopt a risky “ignore it and hope it goes away” approach.

Hmmm … good luck with all that.

Obviously, the governor represents something different to each of the various warring factions of the S.C. Republican establishment, and while we’re hearing that the top two factions are conspiring to keep Sanford in office to protect their candidates (Barrett and McMaster), that doesn’t mean they won’t be linking Haley to Sanford every chance they get.

Barrett and McMaster certainly do not want to give Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer a sixteen-month audition for the top job (more on that story Monday), but they also aren’t going to give Haley a free ride on her proximity to the scandal-tattered governor, either. Bottom line, as long as S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell is agreeable to keeping Sanford in office by keeping his troops in line in the S.C. House (more on that Monday, too), then Barrett and McMaster get to have their cake and eat it, too.

They can bash Haley for her “Sanford connection” all day long without worrying about potential impeachment repercussions.

Nice, huh?

Of course Haley’s gubernatorial bid isn’t necessarily sunk with the Sanford “Titanic” … she may yet find a lifeboat after all.

In early July – two weeks after the Sanford scandal broke – a FITS poll showed that 55% of our readers viewed her gubernatorial prospects as “good as done,” while 45% responded that they were “good to go.”

That means the jury is still out within the echo chamber … which means if Haley adopts a real strategy for dealing with the “Sanford factor” – as opposed to Lerner’s “non-strategy” – she may not go down with the ship.

Artwork: YSC for FITS