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south carolina governor mark sanford

A top advisor to S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford says that the outgoing chief executive privately “regrets” authorizing a $400,000 advertising expenditure that gave a vital boost to S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley’s once-flagging gubernatorial campaign.

Publicly, Sanford’s support for Haley remains strong. In fact, her election is widely-viewed by national political observers as being a key component of a legacy of (cough) “redemption” that the scandal-scarred governor is seeking to carve out for himself.

But what’s the back story? How does Mark Sanford really feel about Nikki Haley?

Our source (who would know) says Sanford is “disillusioned” with his successor – most notably over her failure to follow through on his budgetary reforms – and that he now sees the disconnect between Haley’s rhetoric and her actions becoming “less subtle, less defensible.”

Hmmm … far be it from us to argue with Sanford’s ability to spot a hypocrite. It takes one to know one, right?

Anyway, the Sanford advisor – who was granted anonymity to speak freely about the relationship between the incoming and outgoing governors – says that Sanford first became suspicious of Haley during the general election, when the newly-minted GOP nominee began making her first moves to the “center” of the South Carolina political spectrum. Obviously, that centrist dash only picked up speed as the general election progressed, with Haley backtracking on her support for parental choice and individual income tax relief – a pair of ideas she and Sanford had previously championed together.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came in early September, however, when Haley announced that she would not submit executive budgets – or detailed spending plans designed to pressure state lawmakers into prioritizing core government functions.

Prior to Sanford, S.C. governors typically submitted budget “suggestions,” flimsy documents that contained recommendations for funding specific pet projects – but to his credit Sanford has turned this process into a real pro-taxpayer tool.

This gratuitous sop to the S.C. General Assembly was a clear retreat on Haley’s part – and Sanford even joined a chorus of public opposition to her decision.

Following the budget blow-up, Sanford’s support for Haley was tepid at best.

Of course by then Haley no longer needed Sanford’s help … he had already served his purpose.

More than Sarah Palin (and even more than our founding editor), Sanford is the one person who can lay claim to providing the spark that ignited Haley’s dramatic come-from-behind primary victory this summer.

A month before S.C. GOP primary voters cast their ballots on June 8, internal polling from multiple GOP campaigns showed Haley in last place in the four-way Republican race. That’s when ReformSC – a 501(c)4 organization that formed in 2008 to advance Sanford’s legislative reforms – dumped $400,000 into a television ad introducing Haley to South Carolina voters.

Sources tell FITS that Sanford struggled with his decision to authorize this expenditure – which not only gave Haley a sorely-needed boost in the polls but also allowed her to achieve financial parity with her well-funded, status quo opponents.

At that point in the race, our source says, Sanford wasn’t entertaining ideological doubts about Haley – but he did feel that her campaign hadn’t done anything to warrant the investment and didn’t want to “bet on a loser” so close to election day.

Obviously, Sanford still believes that he has a political future … possibly as a “conservative” alternative to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the 2014 GOP Senate primary. Of course people say the same thing about Haley, too.

For now, though, Haley’s election is being perceived as a feather in Sanford’s cap … and he’s unlikely to do or say anything publicly to dispel that perception.

Still, keep an eye on the relationship between these two politicians … particularly in the event their future ambitions begin to intersect.