Sanford Affair Will Hurt Republicans in the South, Democratic Strategists Say

Republicans may lose their advantage on family issues.

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Democratic strategists say the much-publicized moral lapses of Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina will damage the GOP brand in the South. Sanford, who is married with four sons, had been a strong public advocate of "family values," but he has been making headlines because of his admitted affair with his Argentine mistress, Maria Belen Chapur.

"It definitely hurts Republicans in the heart of the South,'" says Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. He predicts that Sanford's embarrassment, coupled with the admissions of adultery by GOP Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and David Vitter of Louisiana, will be used by Democratic candidates and the party's strategists to tar the GOP with hypocrisy. Recognizing the potential problem, the South Carolina Republican Party's executive committee voted this week to censure Sanford (but didn't call for his resignation).

Republicans have traditionally had an advantage on family issues. Now, Democratic strategists expect the GOP to play down such issues for at least a while and emphasize national security and especially support for cutting taxes—the two other pillars of GOP campaigns for many years. These theories will be tested this fall in two major gubernatorial elections, in New Jersey and Virginia.