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In Line to See Jenny Sanford: Wronged Wives, Straying Hubby

5 years ago
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Jenny Sanford, the first lady of South Carolina for now, returned to the capital city on Friday night to sign copies of her book "Staying True." Who would brave an uncharacteristic South Carolina snowstorm for a one-on-one encounter?
Someone in the same "personal situation," it turns out. Tarnisha Gibson, a 36-year-old military wife, said that Sanford is "trying to find her independence" after a marriage shaken by infidelity – and so is she. Gibson said of Sanford: "I'm getting advice from her and she doesn't even know it." She and hubby "are working it out" after he strayed, she said, while the Fort Jackson sergeant first class stood glumly by, holding their snoozing young daughter and looking as though he would rather be anyplace else.
Maybe Jenny Sanford is leading a movement: Men who cheat, and wives who get their delicious revenge. Sanford has a book that's No. 8 on the New York Times best seller list for hardcover nonfiction; Gibson can drag a penitent spouse to a Barnes & Noble to watch Sanford sign a copy.
The crowd of more than 200 – mostly women but a handful of men, as well – started to reserve spots at noon and lined up at 5 p.m., said the store manager. A couple of hours later, Jenny Sanford – dressed in black with simple gold jewelry, looking more like the investment banker she was than the Southern political wife she became – sat down at a roped-off table to greet her bipartisan fans.
"Why am I standing here? I'm not a Republican. I didn't vote for him. This isn't even my home state," said Gina Carter, a Columbia resident by way of Texas. "She transcends all that," the early-childhood consultant said, answering her own question. "Most political wives play the political game. She didn't. She told her side of the story the way she wanted to tell it."
Mandy Wrigley, on the other hand, voted for Mark Sanford "two times," she said. His stand on "family values and morals" convinced her. Now, "he's the one that looks like a flake."
Jenny Sanford told me that she was surprised and overwhelmed at all the people who came "to give me notes, to offer lots of prayers." To all, she gave a kind word, and usually advice to drive safely home. "I've had good years and bad years," Sanford said to one well-wisher. "Last year wasn't my favorite." As they stood in line, most already knew what was in the book they had yet to read.
After all – with a nonstop on-the-road and on-the-air tour since the official release earlier this month – Sanford hasn't exactly lacked for exposure.
On "20/20" on ABC, she told Barbara Walters that even when Mark Sanford insisted that the promise to be faithful be removed from their wedding vows, she took a "leap of faith" and married him anyway. (She said she admired his honesty.)
For the ladies of "The View," the wife that the governor left for a tryst with his soul mate in Argentina said her husband spends more time with their four sons now than when the couple was together. (He's taking care of them while she's on her whirlwind book blitz.)
To Larry King on CNN, she confessed that she didn't really enjoy being first lady. "It's a job that, you know, you don't get paid," she told him. Besides, the native Midwesterner told him, she's not a Southerner. "You can't be fired, although I guess I'm about to fire myself by divorcing my husband." (The divorce is expected to be final later this month.)
Sanford told Joy Behar that if she had it -- marriage to Mark -- to do over again, she wouldn't. (How do her four sons feel about that?)
She got laughs – perhaps inadvertent ones – on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" on Comedy Central when she revealed that she missed the inmates who worked at the governor's mansion because they cleaned up the family's Labrador Retrievers.
On "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), her message was tailored to the venue. She said that, as a Christian woman, her troubles led her closer to God. She said she's leaving her husband so he can find his way there as well.
While some, including me, have wondered if the marital details and all the publicity will help anyone heal, those waiting on Friday -- some with two and three books to give to friends and family -- didn't come to criticize.
"If it's helped her and might help other women, I think it's great," said Susan Sassani, 67. The Pennsylvania native is sick of hearing about South Carolina when she goes home.
"Mark Sanford, Andre Bauer, every time I call, they ask me 'what else is going to happen.'" Jenny Sanford is someone Sassani said she doesn't have to apologize for. "She's handled herself well."
"Hold your head up high" is the advice Brenda Russell would give her. She drove 45 minutes from Newberry, S.C., and was nervous about getting home in the bad weather, but didn't want to miss meeting "this amazing woman."
Another couple in line, Debbie and Wayne Jones of Lexington, have been married 37 years this month, they said. Wayne Jones revealed a hint of sympathy for the governor. "We're all subject to making a mistake," he said. But once Mark Sanford was given a chance and didn't correct it, he made "a mistake upon a mistake." Debbie Jones said of Jenny Sanford, "I'm proud of her stance, caring for her family. She's not putting up with something that's wrong."
Watching from a little way off, Lee Bandy was getting a bit weary of the Sanford saga. He thinks the people of South Carolina might be, too. He acknowledged a friendly greeting from the woman in the spotlight and held his signed copy of "Staying True."
Bandy is officially retired after 40 years covering state politics in Washington and South Carolina for The State newspaper, and that means covering the Sanfords. "She has a very hard edge to her," he said of Jenny Sanford. "She's tough." (I'll say. On my copy of her book, she wrote: "To Mary, Keep all those politicians in line and true.") As her husband's campaign manager, "there was no doubt who was in charge," Bandy said. Bandy, who clashed with Jenny Sanford a few times, said she was very protective of her husband. "She was the governor."
And now, the first lady of South Carolina is trading it in for a larger stage, to talk about love, marriage and how to have the last word when happily-ever-after falls apart.
Just in time for Valentine's Day.

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