WASHINGTON — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford defied calls for his resignation from GOP leaders Wednesday, insisting he will remain in office even as his political fortunes dimmed in the wake of his admission that he secretly traveled abroad to meet a mistress.
Political opinion shifted after a pair of emotional interviews in which Sanford, a Republican, described his Argentine mistress as his soul mate and admitted to a handful of encounters with other women that "crossed lines."
Republican lawmakers in South Carolina who had supported the governor since he acknowledged the extramarital affair last week turned against him after the interviews were reported Tuesday, saying the disclosures amounted to a distraction that would prevent him from effectively doing the state's business.
Nearly two dozen GOP lawmakers called on Sanford to step down, saying he has lost credibility, in part by making such personal comments to the Associated Press, some of which contradicted earlier statements.
"What we saw in that interview was just him being irrational," Republican state Sen. Larry Martin said in an interview. "The very idea that he would be that candid, that frank, that brutally honest about his feelings for the woman in Argentina versus his wife versus the other girlfriends, I just find that incredible. Rational people don't do that."
"He doesn't need to be talking to reporters," Martin added. "He needs to go find him some professional help. That's just the facts."
Sanford, 49, who once was talked about as a possible presidential candidate in 2012, remains committed to serving out the remaining 18 months of his term, said his spokesman, Joel Sawyer.
"The governor has given a full and truthful account, and he is finished discussing this matter," Sawyer said Wednesday. "He is focused on being governor, on rebuilding his marriage, and on building back the trust of South Carolinians."
But pressure is escalating for him to relinquish the governorship and turn over power to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, a Republican. Rep. J. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), who is running for governor next year, became the first South Carolina congressman to ask Sanford to resign, saying that the governor can no longer be an effective leader.
"Crisis requires people in leadership positions to act decisively, with as much dispassionate wisdom and judgment as possible," Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler and several other state GOP senators said in a joint statement, adding: "We therefore have concluded that Gov. Mark Sanford must resign his office. He has lost the trust of the people and the Legislature to lead our state through historically difficult times."
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told Fox News on Wednesday that Sanford "dropped the flag. The rest of us have to get up and go on. . . . A lot of us are talking to him behind the scenes in hopes that he'll make the right decision about what needs to be done."
Even Republican state Sen. Tom Davis, a friend and former aide to whom the governor publicly apologized several times last week, showed signs of turning against Sanford after a week of defending him. In a statement Wednesday, Davis said he had talked with the governor and first lady, Jenny, and would soon make a decision about whether to call for Sanford to step down.
"Obviously I have tremendous concern for my friends Mark and Jenny Sanford and their family, but I also have a job to do as an elected official," Davis said.