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S.C. First Lady Jenny Sanford has been a master of the Palmetto political universe for some time now, engineering her husband’s upset Congressional victory in 1994 and managing both of his victorious gubernatorial campaigns in 2002 and 2006.

In fact, S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford has never lost an election – an fourteen-year undefeated string largely attributable to his wife’s skill as a campaign manager.

Along the way, the First Lady has earned a reputation as a savvy, no-holds-barred political operative with a keen mind and hard-edged managerial style – qualities that no doubt also served her well during a successful career on Wall Street.

Now, as her husband’s political fortunes plummet (and his political future evaporates) in the wake of an extramarital affair with his Argentine lover, Maria Belen Chapur, Jenny Sanford has managed to emerge from the scandal more beloved than ever.

By refusing to stand by her man – and by making it clear that his political future is not her concern – Jenny has earned considerable national acclaim.

Of course, as FITS first reported last week, the truth behind those headlines is that Mark Sanford’s political future – or the next eighteen months of it, at least – is very much Jenny Sanford’s concern, although not in the way you might think.

That’s because underneath the First Lady’s tough exterior is a woman who deeply loves her family – and who will apparently do anything to save it.

Does that include personally “calling off the dogs” last week at a critical point in the political drama surrounding her husband’s tenuous hold on power?

“Absolutely,” our sources say.

In fact, as we reported yesterday, the First Lady is said to have personally intervened last week with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was on the verge of publicly calling for the governor’s resignation. Also, several other elected officials and opinion leaders in the Palmetto State have told FITS that the First Lady persuaded them to hold off on demanding that the governor step down.

“Absent her involvement, right now we would be speaking of the Sanford administration in the past tense,” said one politico who received what’s already being referred to as the Jenny treatment. “She backed a lot of us off (calling for Sanford to resign).”

Why would she do that, though? That’s what no one seems to understand.

After all, isn’t Jenny Sanford the last person you would expect to be standing up for her husband right now? Particularly after he lied to her and visited a lover that she specifically forbade him to see again? Oh, and publicly humiliated her – and did God knows what to her kids – in the process?

And if Jenny Sanford was in fact going to take her husband back, wouldn’t she want that reconciliation to take priority over his political career? Specifically when all he has left is eighteen months of a lame duck gubernatorial administration?

That would be our thought, but believe it or not, we’re hearing that just the opposite is true.

In fact, according to sources close to the First Family, the threat of Mark Sanford losing his job as governor is currently the only thing that’s keeping their marriage together.

“She’s keeping him in country,” a source close to Mrs. Sanford told FITS. “She knows if he’s out of a job he’s on an airplane to Buenos Aires.”

Another source familiar with the Sanfords’ “reconciliation” said the same thing.

“It’s the only card she has to play,” the source said. “The threat hanging over him is the only way they reconcile.”

Indeed, the governor has reportedly told friends that he doesn’t want his affair with Chapur to be the “last chapter” of his political career. They say he is intently focused on rehabilitating his tattered public image, but that he seems “lost” when the discussion turns personal.

“I think his head and his heart are in Argentina,” a source close to Sanford tells FITS.

Does that mean, then, that the threat of losing the governor’s office is the only thing that’s keeping Sanford from being there physically?

“Yes,” the source says.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in this sad soap opera …