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S.C. governor’s impromptu hiking trip sparks concerns

Gov. Mark Sanford finally phoned home Tuesday.

The South Carolina Republican had been AWOL since Thursday, when, according to aides, he left town and went off the grid to “decompress” after a taxing legislative session.

The lieutenant governor, other lawmakers and even his wife said they did not know where he was. By the time a spokesman disclosed his whereabouts late Monday night (he was hiking along the Appalachian Trail, it turns out), media outlets around the country already had reported on the two-term governor’s “disappearance.”

When Sanford checked in with his chief of staff Tuesday, he was shocked to hear that his absence had caused alarm, the spokesman said.

“He’s a big outdoorsman; he likes to spend as much time outdoors as possible,” spokesman Joel Sawyer said.

For a politician whom some have touted as a possible 2012 presidential contender, the episode was an inelegant introduction to the American public. And it’s another setback for Sanford, who earlier this year was told by the South Carolina Supreme Court that he had to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money for the state, despite his opposition to the bailout.

After learning that Sanford was safe and sound, many pundits and politicians questioned his judgment, saying he should have signed over executive privileges to the lieutenant governor before leaving.

“I think it’s bizarre behavior,” said Sen. John M. Knotts Jr., a Republican. “The state was on autopilot without a pilot.”

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