Sanford gives in

SANFORD GIVES IN…. He did his best to resist economic recovery efforts in his state, but for now, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) is backing down from his hard line.

Gov. Mark Sanford will comply with a midnight Friday stimulus deadline and become the last governor in the nation to seek millions of dollars in federal economic-recovery funds for his state, aides said late Thursday.

Sanford will continue contesting $700 million in education and law enforcement money for South Carolina, but his 11th-hour move to meet the deadline buys time for schools fearing mass teacher layoffs and draconian cuts.

Sanford’s month-long fight over stimulus money placed South Carolina in the national spotlight and put him at loggerheads with President Barack Obama.

And that, in all likelihood, was the point. It’s hard to imagine even a Neo-Hooverite like Sanford really wanted to undercut his own constituents during an economic crisis. The goal, I suspect, was to get that “national spotlight” in advance of the 2012 presidential campaign. He wanted to impress the party activists who help the party pick their next national nominee, and it appears that Sanford’s efforts have already helped in that regard.

It’s set up the dynamic that the South Carolinian hoped for. When you think of economic recovery, we’re supposed to think of President Obama. When we think of fighting economic recovery tooth and nail, we’re supposed to think of Gov. Mark Sanford.

Regardless, administration officials seem relieved that Sanford backed down. A spokesperson for the OMB said, “We are pleased with reports that Governor Sanford will join the other 49 governors — Democrats and Republicans — in filing a certification to accept Recovery Act money.”

I should note that Sanford isn’t entirely done; he still wants to direct at least some of the disputed $700 million away from spending projects that might help the public. But as far as the broader political strategy, it seems Sanford has already reached his preferred goal — he gets to say he was the nation’s most prominent critic of stimulating the economy and he gets to take the money he said he doesn’t want.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.