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Staff Says Missing Gov. Is Safe

South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford is safe and secure, his office said Monday afternoon, moving to tamp down speculation that he had gone missing.

Sanford has not been in touch with his office since Thursday and left Columbia without his state police detail.

His communications director, Joel Sawyer, wouldn’t disclose Sanford’s location but said that before the governor left town last week “he let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach.”

“Should any emergencies arise between the times in which he checks in, our staff would obviously be in contact with other state officials as the situation warrants before making any decisions,” said Sawyer.

Sanford’s wife, Jenny, told The Associated Press Monday that she was unconcerned and that the second-term governor is “writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids.”

Sawyer added: “The governor put in a lot of time during this last legislative session, and after the session winds down it's not uncommon for him to go out of pocket for a few days at a time to clear his head. Obviously, that's going to be somewhat out of the question this time given the attention this particular absence has gotten.”

Sanford allies blame that attention on some of the governor’s adversaries, especially state Sen. Jake Knotts, a veteran Republican who has clashed repeatedly with Sanford.

It was Knotts who provided the only on-record confirmation of Sanford’s absence to The State newspaper, prompting nationwide buzz about the unlikely story of the disappearing governor.

Knotts demanded in an interview Monday with The State to “know immediately who is running the executive branch in the governor’s absence.”

“As the head of our state, in the unfortunate event of a state of emergency or homeland security situation, Governor Sanford should be available at all times to the chief of [the state police force],” Knotts said.

State authorities told the paper that Sanford’s last known location was somewhere near Atlanta where the governor’s phone signal was picked up by a local cell phone tower.

Sanford’s solo summer sabbatical is only the latest reminder of his eccentricity.

“He marches to his own crazy beat,” said one veteran Palmetto State GOP strategist when asked about this Salinger-like episode.

Sanford, a potential 2012 presidential aspirant, has previously raised eyebrows in South Carolina for bringing squealing and defecating pigs into the statehouse to make his case against pork-barrel spending and for sporting a ratty blazer to his own Inauguration.

A former House member, he easily won his gubernatorial races and has been more popular with the electorate than the state’s political class.

But with unemployment climbing in South Carolina, Sanford has come under fire for initially refusing to take some federal stimulus funds.

Now he’s sure to become the butt of late-night television jokes for a time, not exactly the preferred launching pad for White House hopefuls.

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