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Republicans Concerned About Fallout From Governor's Sex Scandal

In U.S. politics, Republicans are reeling in the wake of another sex scandal, this one involving South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. He had been discussed as a possible presidential contender in 2012, but his admission of an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina has put his political future in doubt and is the latest blow for a party trying to find its political footing after last year's election losses.

U.S. politics can seem like a spectator sport at times, and this week South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was the featured attraction.

After days of speculation about his whereabouts, Sanford returned from a secret trip to Argentina and held a tearful news conference in which he admitted having an extramarital affair.

"And as a consequence I hurt her, I hurt you all, I hurt my wife, I hurt my boys," Sanford said.

Sanford previously served as a congressman from South Carolina and was twice elected governor as a conservative Republican.

His admission of an affair did not sit well with some of his conservative supporters.

"He puts out this image as a good Christian male and model citizen, saying that he is a very God-fearing man, and he does something like this," Man said. "It is a terrible thing."

Sanford's admission caught voters unaware, says Winthrop University South Carolina political science professor Scott Huffmon.

"I think this was a surprise to most people in South Carolina," Huffmon said. "Mark Sanford has waged many of his campaigns putting his family on the frontlines, talking about his wife and four sons."

Sanford's revelation came just days after Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada also acknowledged that he had cheated on his wife with a former aide.

"I violated the vows of my marriage," Ensign said. "It is absolutely the worst thing I have ever done in my life."

Like Sanford, Ensign was one of the names discussed when Republicans began to consider potential presidential contenders for the 2012 election.

The political scandals come at a challenging time for national Republican Party leaders, who are trying to regain their footing after losing the presidency in 2008 and control of Congress in 2006.

House Republican leader John Boehner sought to change the subject when asked whether the Sanford and Ensign scandals would hurt the national party.

"If you have noticed in my press conference this morning, I am not talking about it," Boehner said. "I am talking about the stuff that is at hand, the things I have got to work on."

But Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak says it is likely that, in the short term at least, there will be political fallout from the Sanford and Ensign scandals.

"Voters do not pay a lot of attention to isolated incidents, but I think they do pay attention to patterns," Mackowiak said. "And I think the biggest problem is that it undermines the confidence that voters may have had in Republicans rebuilding and rebranding themselves."

Recent polls show that while President Barack Obama remains personally popular, support for his economic policies may be weakening.

The polls suggest Republicans are making some headway in arguing the president is spending too much government money and that the budget deficit is reeling out of control.

But consultant Matt Mackowiak says the current focus on the infidelities of Sanford and Ensign threatens to undermine Republican efforts to shift the national momentum back in their direction.

"Americans may not be hugely in favor of the prescriptions Republicans have, but they have more and more questions about what Obama and the Democratic Congress have proposed," Mackowiak said. "So, to the extent that this latest batch of scandals comes out, it takes the national focus away from serious, legitimate, responsible questions about health care and climate change and focuses it back on two individuals who made mistakes and are dealing with the fallout personally."

Of course, it is not only Republicans who have been hurt by sex scandals in recent years. Democrats have had their share as well, including former presidential contender John Edwards last year and former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, who resigned in March of 2008 after he was linked with a prostitute.