When Mark Sanford spoke to the First Monday Republican Lunch Group on Hilton Head Island seven years ago, about 40 people heard the former congressman espouse his candidacy for governor.
He visited during his first year as governor and again Monday, this time as a two-term governor dogged by scandal. An overflow crowd of more than 100 gave him a standing ovation Monday as he stepped to the microphone during the group's monthly meeting at Aunt Chiladas Easy Street Cafe. Group members said it was their largest crowd in the club's 11-year history.
Sanford, who admitted in June to an extramarital affair, has attempted to turn the increased attention he has received in recent months into momentum for his political causes. Sanford began his address by apologizing without directly mentioning the affair, continuing a refrain he has issued around the state.
He then urged attendees to "take that political energy in the room and do something good with it."
Once mentioned as a presidential contender, Sanford admitted those dreams are dashed.
"At times, the conversation was about Mark's political trajectory," Sanford said. "If there's anything that's abundantly clear, it's that I ain't running for president."
With pundits no longer speculating about his rise up the Republican ranks, Sanford believes he can focus on restructuring government, limiting spending and developing the state's economy during the final 11 months of his administration.
"We really have an opportunity before us," said Sanford. "We can have a debate on the issue at hand."
Sanford plans to continue what he characterized as a "seven-year war" on the state's fiscal habits, which he said have resulted in South Carolina spending 138 percent of the per-capita national average.
"Literally, the buck stops nowhere," he said.
Sanford also pledged to continue pushing for:
• More power for the executive branch, which he said would bring more accountability to state government.
• A proposed port in Jasper County, which he said would provide economic benefits rivaling those of Boeing's planned assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston.
Sanford, who said he likely will enter the private sector next, also praised his former chief of staff, current state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and thanked the group's members for their friendship.
Sanford's message found many supporters in the audience, as attendees lined up to thank him, encourage him and wish him well.
"I admire you very much, and I like what you've done," Dianne Reynolds of Bluffton said during a question-and-answer session. "Thank you for not resigning."
She said later that she believes Sanford is contrite and should be allowed to continue in office.
"I don't see what an affair has to do with what he does," Reynolds said.