COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's over.
Whatever hopes Mark Sanford had of becoming president withered during his mysterious absence and died altogether during Wednesday's explosive news conference, political observers said.
Now, the challenge is not how to clear the many hurdles any presidential candidate must face on the long, expensive road to the White House. The challenge is how to remain in office here in Columbia.
The White House? That dream is over.
"It's over – totally, completely, forever," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, said Sanford's biggest problem is not the revelation that he had an extramarital affair.
"That's personal, and people can forgive that," Woodard said. "It's some of the things that he's done in the last few days, his decision-making under pressure. And this was intense pressure. Misleading his staff. Disappearing."
Sabato said voters will not overlook the potential ramifications of Sanford's absence.
"This is dereliction of duty," he said. "That's how the public will look at this. Forget about hurricanes. With them, you get a warning. What about an outbreak of tornadoes? A governor is supposed to be close at hand."
Wednesday's political cliff dive – where a twice-elected governor stood before a local and national audience and admitted to an affair – was a swift, steep fall from where Sanford stood just a few weeks ago.
Then, he was the fiscally conservative Southern governor standing up to the Obama administration and members of his own party in arguing against millions in stimulus spending.
The conservative opinion page of The Wall Street Journal and the anti-tax Club for Growth, already fans of Sanford, fell in love with him all over again.
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