Mark Sanford Fail – White House Hopes and Web Sites go Down

Mark Sanford had a bad day today.

The Governor of South Carolina – a possible Republican Presidential contender for the 2012 election and a married father of four – had been the subject of national speculation and gossip over the last number of days for being completely out of touch with his family and his staff.  His family didn’t know where he was, his cell phone was off, and his staff was unaware of how to get a hold of him. As it turns out, he was in Argentina.  Why Argentina, you ask?  Well, today Sanford let us in on the secret.

In a nationally televised press conference today, Sanford admitted an extra-marital affair with an Argentinian woman, and said he’s resigning from his post as chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, but will remain as Governor.

Upon hearing the news, many folks (A LOT) must have done what I did – perform a web search on his name and then his wife’s name.  So much traffic was sent to www.SCGovernor.com and www.SC.gov that the sites were unavailable, at least intermittently.  SCGovernor.com returned only the message “Server is too busy” after a prolonged load time, while SC.gov appeared to flicker up and down.

If you’re keeping score at home – and I apparently I am – Sanford appears to have derailed his Presidential hopes and taken down his official government web sites at the same time.  One of these outages – the web site – is really not his fault, but South Carolina is clearly not prepared to communicate with their populations and the world via the web during big moments.  SCGovernor.com is not a site which receives much traffic on a regular basis.  Unless the site was taken down on purpose, which seems unlikely, the web host was not prepared for such a heavy influx of traffic.  Doesn’t bode well for usage of electronic communication as part of any emergency preparedness plan in South Carolina.  (A whois search reveals that the domain servers to be ns1.net.state.sc.us and ns2.net.state.sc.us, and the response headers indicate that the web server is a Microsoft IIS 6 server.)

The Alexa Web Information Service reports that SCGovernor.com is not a highly trafficked site, ranking well outside the top 100,00 sites.  I ran a quick comparison between SCGovernor.com and the official sites for two other high-profile Governors, New York’s David Patterson and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The graphic shown here displays search visits over a one month span on SCGovernor.com, Gov.CA.gov and NY.gov/Governor.  The regular visits from web searches reaching the South Carolina site don’t even appear on the graph.

As he stepped up to the podium today, I doubt Sanford was considering how much traffic his web host could sustain.  What I would guess, is that he was fully aware of how quickly the news of his indiscretion would spread online.  Sanford and his communications staff would have done well to battle the web scandal wildfire which was set ablaze today by being prepared with a web-based firehose of their own.  Put the full version of events up on the web, make the full news conference available on-line, restate the important elements of the story in a clear, concise manner, and react to the speculation about impeachment and resignation or whatever else might require rebuttal.  Sanford lost the ability to amplify his side of the story on his official site, because he doesn’t have one (at the moment).

Folks – if you’re thinking about running for President of the United States, I would suggest getting a good web host.  But – as one person in the WSG offices said today – if the Governor of your state is sleeping around, a low quality web host might be the least of your problems.