So when he tearfully confessed a yearlong affair with a woman he visited on a secret trip to Argentina, reaction ranged from embarrassment over his behavior to pity for his family. But there was a common theme: surprise that the man named as a possible 2012 GOP presidential contender had been cheating on his wife.
"I was shocked, shocked," said Tom Daly, 42, a magazine editor in Charleston. "First of all he's a Republican golden boy and he's a strict, staunch conservative. I'm so shocked. It was something I did not expect."
Daly called it a blemish on South Carolina, and Ellen Brady, a computer network specialist from Charleston, wondered why it had to happen in her state.
"We're all mortified, absolutely mortified," she said. "It's splashed all over the news."
Gerald Walker, a 19-year-old student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said Sanford should not have told staffers he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually in Argentina for seven days. His spokesman repeated the lie to reporters, leading to several days of confusion over his whereabouts.
"He shouldn't have lied to us. He should have been up straight," Walker said. "It's very embarrassing for someone in a leadership role that we are supposed to respect, especially me being a young guy."
Judith Thompson, 66, who works at the South Carolina Nurses Association across the street from the governor's mansion, said she was concerned for the families involved.
"It's a very sad moment for all the people in this state," she said.
Stephanie Byrd, 20, a University of South Carolina student selling Italian ice from a street cart, also called the affair sad.
"It seems to happen to a lot of movie stars so it's not like it's surprising, but it's kind of disappointing for someone who is supposed to help you through things and represent you," she said.
South Carolina women's basketball recruit Kelsey Bone, meanwhile, laughed about the where-is-he-now nature of the news in the state she has called home for just three weeks.
"First he was on the Appalachian Trail, now he's in Argentina," said Bone, 17, from Houston. "And I was like, 'How do you get the two mixed up?' These past few weeks, there's never a dull moment."