Jenny Sanford, ex-wife of former S.C. governor Mark Sanford, is on Gov. Nikki Haley’s short list as a finalist to replace U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
Haley narrowed her choice to five finalists to replace DeMint, a person close to her said Tuesday. Her short list also means South Carolina could have its first black or first female U.S. senator.
In addition to Sanford, Haley is considering U.S. Reps. Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, state agency director Catherine Templeton and former state Attorney General Henry McMaster.
The former governor’s wife became the center of a news storm in 2009, when her husband, who was governor at the time, made national headlines when he vanished from the state for five days and reporters were told he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. When he reappeared, the father of four was forced to admit to being in Argentina with a woman he later called his soul mate after a reporter from The State newspaper saw him get off a plane that had returned from Argentina. The couple has since divorced.
Sanford said Tuesday that she would consider taking the position if offered.
Sanford received praise across the nation for her handling of the affair and never ruled out a future in politics. The mother of four boys had run her former husband’s campaigns and was his chief political consultant.
She said she has spoken to a governor’s representative and that, “If asked, I’d seriously consider accepting the offer.”
“I’m honored to be on such a list,” she said.
DeMint, considered a conservative kingmaker, announced last week that he was resigning, effective Jan. 1, to take the helm of the Heritage Foundation. He will become president of the national conservative think tank in April.
State law gives Haley sole authority to pick DeMint’s replacement until 2014, when voters will choose who fulfills the final two years of his term.
Haley has ruled out the possibility of sending herself to the Senate or appointing a “place holder” for two years. Haley also said she will not run for the seat in 2014.
Haley’s short list consists of colleagues and supporters.
“Nikki’s known all of them and seen them work and fight for the things they believe in,” the source said. “She appreciates the relationship she has with them and thinks they would be great senators.”
Both Scott and Gowdy were elected last month to their second terms in Congress.
Scott, a former Charleston County Council chairman, said he hasn’t talked directly with the governor’s office. For now, he said, he’s concentrating on his current job.
“It’s always an honor to serve your nation and state in any capacity you can,” said Scott, who served one term in the state House with Haley.
Currently the only black Republican in Congress, Scott would become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. But he shies away from such labels.
“I understand the focus. I’ve been living in my skin a long time. But in the end, anyone who wants to succeed by any other characteristic other than being qualified, I don’t understand,” he said.
Knowing Haley, he said, “she’ll focus on the qualification of the office and not history.”
Haley, the state’s first female and first minority governor, likewise shied away from discussing the historical nature of her run for governor.
Templeton leads the state’s public health and environmental control agency and was an early Cabinet pick for Haley.
But Haley initially tagged the attorney to run the state’s labor and licensing agency, citing her legal specialty in fighting labor unions. When the Department of Health and Environment Control needed a director, its board, which is appointed by Haley, chose Templeton with Haley’s blessing.
Templeton has been in that role at one of the state’s largest agencies since February. She did not immediately return messages Tuesday.
Gowdy, a former Spartanburg prosecutor, also could not be immediately reached Tuesday. He has said his top choice for DeMint’s replacement would be Scott.
McMaster became a close Haley ally after losing to her in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. The former two-term attorney general and state GOP chairman had been considered a front-runner for the governorship until Haley surged late in the primary campaign. In October, Haley appointed him co-chairman of a panel she created to make recommendations on overhauling the state’s weak ethics laws.
McMaster declined Tuesday to discuss the possibility of his appointment.