Sanford returned from a nearly weeklong disappearance in June to admit an affair with an Argentine woman, a revelation that led to questions about the legality of his travel on state, private and commercial planes.
At a news conference hours after Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer called for him to step down, Sanford said the people of South Carolina want to move past the scandals.
"I'm not going to be railroaded out of this office by political opponents or folks who were never fans of mine in the first place," Sanford said. "A lot of what is going on now is pure politics, plain and simple."
Bauer and Sanford are Republicans who have served together for two terms but were elected separately and have never been friends.
Some Republicans have been reluctant to seek Sanford's resignation or impeachment because they do not want to give Bauer what would amount to a long-term tryout for the job. If Sanford steps down before his term ends in January 2011, Bauer said he will promise not to run in 2010 so that is not an issue. Bauer considered making the same offer in June but never officially did.
"The serious misconduct that has been revealed along with lingering questions and continuing distractions make it virtually impossible for our state to solve the critical problems we're facing without a change in leadership," he said Wednesday.
House Republicans are expected to discuss this week what it would take to impeach Sanford. The House is expected to launch impeachment proceedings when lawmakers return for their regular session in January, though they could also hold a special session before then. Any House member can make the proposal.
Sanford said heeding Bauer's call for him to resign would be like "heaven on earth" because it would get him out of the public eye, but it would not be right.
"Me hanging up the spurs 16 months out, as comfortable as that would be, as much as I might like to do that on a personal basis, it is wrong," he said.
Bauer said he tried to give Sanford the benefit of the doubt after he admitted his affair, but the state has been paralyzed by questions raised afterward about the legality of his official travel. Bauer said he worries calls for Sanford's impeachment will dominate next year's legislative session instead of issues like the economy and job creation.
Bauer said he will go ahead with his candidacy if Sanford does not resign or lawmakers do not return to Columbia to force him out within 30 days. Term limits prevent Sanford from running for a third term.
Sacrificing the run for governor next year could boost Bauer's status in the state GOP but still allow the 40-year-old plenty of time for another election.
Republican Sen. David Thomas, a 2002 Bauer opponent whose Senate subcommittee is investigating Sanford's travels, said Bauer's decision would likely spur the House to action. Several Republicans have said they support impeachment.
"If he can have a successful time in the year as governor, then he sets himself up for a future race," Thoma said. "He's young. He can re-create himself to some degree as a successful governor."
Sanford has come under scrutiny since he returned from a nearly weeklong disappearance in June to admit he had been in Argentina visiting his mistress. He led his staff to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The governor told The Associated Press his mistress was his soul mate. He acknowledged visiting her in Argentina during a 2008 trade mission planned by the state's Commerce Department and, after the publicity in June, reimbursed the state $3,300 for part of the trip.
AP investigations since have found Sanford used state planes for personal and political trips, which state law prohibits. He also failed to disclose trips on private planes that ethics officials say should have been made public in campaign and ethics filings.
An AP investigation in July showed the governor took pricey flights on commercial airlines for overseas trips despite a law requiring state employees to use lowest-cost travel. A state senator investigating those flights has said six of them broke the law and the state attorney general has called for an ethics probe.
The governor says he has done nothing wrong.
Sanford said he looked forward to the ethics investigation and said his administration should be looked at in comparison with others. Without giving any details, he accused others of similar misdeeds, including "folks" flying on the Concorde supersonic jet "in days past." The Concorde was taken out of service in 2003.
Sanford left the news conference without answering questions.
Despite insisting the ethics probe will reveal he is in the right, Sanford has repeatedly ducked questions on whether he would make the investigation public. Under state law, unless he waives confidentiality, the agency cannot even say whether it is investigating.
His wife has moved out of the governor's mansion with the couple's four sons but says she and her husband are working on their marriage.