Despite a wave of speculation on news Web sites and political blogs, Gov. Mark Sanford told a Rock Hill audience Thursday that he has no plans to make an endorsement in the GOP presidential primary.
Sanford said he's already too busy trying to reform state government and enjoy what time he has left with his oldest son, Marshall, who will go away to school in a few years.
Some political sites speculated Thursday that Sanford is close to endorsing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is running first in many national polls.
The chatter grew, in part, from Giuliani's South Carolina schedule today. His campaign said it has reserved a ballroom at Charleston's Doubletree Hotel at 1:30 p.m. for what it calls a "major endorsement announcement."
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No plans, but not ruling it out
Sanford brushed aside a connection during a luncheon address to the Rock Hill Rotary Club.
"God only gives us so many hours in the day," he said. "I'm in the business of trying to take things off the plate rather than put them on. I'm staying out of the presidential race."
Moments earlier, though, Sanford offered a slightly different response likely to keep the pundits guessing. An audience member asked during a Q&A session who Sanford would support in the primary.
"I'm working on that," he said, breaking into a smile.
But in an interview with The Herald after his speech, Sanford went so far as to bet a reporter a case of beer that he wouldn't formally back a candidate before the primary, though he quickly changed the wager to Coca-Cola or a lunch.
Then, he issued another caution. "I'm not saying never," he said.
Later Thursday, the Giuliani campaign confirmed its Charleston event involves a national endorsement, not Sanford.
Presidential politics aside, Sanford told the audience that too many people perceive him as a "libertarian wacko nut job who just hates government."
The reality, he said, is that making South Carolina competitive in the global economy requires tough decisions. It also requires challenging the status quo in the state Legislature, says a group with ties to Sanford called Reform SC.
The group is raising money that could be spent on helping future candidates, including Republican challengers who might run against incumbents in their own party.
State Rep. Carl Gullick of Lake Wylie believes he's among those being eyed. He has opposed the governor on school choice, among other issues. Gullick was elected to succeed Ralph Norman last year in District 48, which includes Fort Mill.
"They told me I was going to be targeted," said Gullick, who attended the lunch but left before Sanford spoke. "The politics of intimidation doesn't go very far with me, and that's what this is."
During his speech, Sanford praised state Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Lancaster, Norman and later, state Sen. Wes Hayes. But he did not mention Gullick.
"I wasn't saying anything bad about anybody else," he told The Herald afterward.
As for whether Gullick is among the Republicans being targeted, Sanford demurred.
"That's where there's been a lot of misinformation about this Reform SC effort," he said. "There isn't some list out there of, 'Let's go after these guys.'"