Columbia, S.C. After a political mystery — “Where in the World is South Carolina’s Governor?” — Mark Sanford’s aides said he was stunned by all the fuss over his five-day absence and would cut short a secretive hike along the Appalachian Trail.
State officials and even his wife said they had no idea where he went over Father’s Day weekend, and not everyone is buying his explanation. His disappearance has left some in the Palmetto State wondering: Is this any way for a governor to act?
Sanford’s spokesman said the governor was hiking to clear his head after the legislative session, during which he lost a key battle.
But critics of the two-term Republican — and there are many — wondered why it took nine hours after reporters started asking questions for the governor’s staff to say what the state’s chief executive was doing. Sanford was expected back in his office today, but his aides stopped answering questions about his trip, including where he was on the 2,175-mile trail, whether he was with security and if anyone else could confirm his whereabouts.
“If you’re not skeptical, then you have to think the governor’s office is in complete chaos,” said Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
The episode could squelch talk of a 2012 presidential bid that only grew after months spent building credibility with conservatives as he battled legislators over taking the state’s share of $787 billion in federal stimulus cash.
“If he were thinking of a presidential run, this is all the more puzzling,” said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University political scientist. “Any opponent would try to capitalize on this and easily could do so.”
Rumblings about Sanford’s mysterious departure began Monday, three weeks after he failed to block federal bailout money for South Carolina schools. A court order June 4 forced him to take the $700 million.
Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts started asking questions about a rumor that Sanford had disappeared in a state law enforcement vehicle.