Here's how S.C. Gov. Sanford avoided impeachment

Impeachment is dead.

Gov. Mark Sanford survived the threat largely because of a sound legal strategy and splintered opinion — among both lawmakers and the public — over whether the two-term Republican's actions merited his removal from office.

Last week, a South Carolina House committee officially killed a bid to impeach Sanford, instead endorsing a censure resolution. It expresses the General Assembly's disapproval of Sanford's "dereliction of duty" and "official misconduct."

In June, the governor admitted an extramarital affair after taking a secret, five-day trip to Argentina to see his lover. Subsequent media investigations of the governor's travel showed Sanford also saw his lover on a state-funded 2008 trade mission.

Lawmakers mostly limited their debate over Sanford's fate to those two events, deciding, ultimately, that they were not the "serious misconduct" required to remove a governor from office.

But other factors helped Sanford escape impeachment as well.

The looming 2010 governor's race weighed heavily on lawmakers' decision-making. First lady Jenny Sanford, who filed for divorce earlier this month, also stuck up for her estranged husband when he needed her most.

Timing was on Sanford's side, too.

When Sanford disappeared - only to surface five days later and reveal his shocking secret -- the Legislature had, just days before, wrapped up its session.

Lawmakers spent much of the summer saying a House impeachment vote could not be held until 2010 because of legislative rules.

Yet, at one point, South Carolina's political leadership was near unanimous in calling for Sanford to resign, and momentum for impeachment appeared to be building.

But Sanford never wavered. He would not quit, he said repeatedly. He would serve out his term.

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