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Ticket Replay: Gov. Mark Sanford hikes off an Appalachian Trail cliff, hears call of Argentina

December 27, 2009 | 10:10 am

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford talking to the Associated Press about his love affair with Argentina's Maria Belen Chapur

As the holidays unfold, The Ticket's thoughts turn to some time off. So we're re-publishing some of our favorite or most-read items from 2009. This item originally appeared on July 1.

South Carolina's Gov. Mark Sanford is acting like a man smitten.

In three hours of emotional interviews over the last two days, the Republican governor told the Associated Press that his affair with Maria Belen Chapur -- a 43-year-old Argentina mother of two teenage sons -- was not a tawdry sexual encounter but a yearlong connection between two people deeply in love.

''This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,'' Sanford said. ''A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.''

They met for romantic stays in Manhattan and in the Hamptons, paying cash so their whereabouts could not be traced. They met one more time in the city, a rendezvous meant as their last, sanctioned by his wife, Jenny, after she learned of their affair and chaperoned by a spiritual adviser who came to help them say goodbye.

But the governor could not stay away. Four months later, telling his staff he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail over Father's Day, he got on a plane to Argentina, hungry for more time with Chapur, and discovered why he could not close the door. "I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate," he said.

Crying at times and clearly wearing his emotions on his sleeve, the two-term governor also acknowledged that he had casual encounters with other women but insisted that he never crossed the line by having sex with them.

''If you're a married guy, at the end of the day, you shouldn't be dancing with somebody else," he said.  "There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines I shouldn't have crossed as a married man but never crossed the ultimate line."

The revelations led to more political fallout for the politician once touted as a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2012. The state attorney general, also a Republican, is investigating whether any public funds were used in the trysts. Sanford himself delivered a personal check for nearly $3,000 to the state for a 2008 state-funded trip to Argentina during which he visited Chapur.

And Sanford, who called for President Clinton to resign for lying about his dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky during a previous era, said he saw no reason to leave the governor's mansion now.

Despite his obvious emotional connection with Chapur, Sanford said he is trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny, his partner of 20 years and the mother of their four sons. "I owe it too much to my boys and to the last 20 years with Jenny to not try this larger walk of faith,'' he said.

So far, though many a state legislator is calling for Sanford to resign, the public in South Carolina seems to think the governor should be allowed to serve out the remaining 18 months of his term. In a poll conducted Monday night, nearly half of the state's residents think he should stay, as opposed to 41% who think he should step down and nearly 9% who aren't sure.

True, the poll suggested a party split -- Republicans lined up with their Republican governor, Democrats said he should go -- but the larger truth may be less political. I mean, we've all been in love, right?

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: A solemn Sanford during recent Associated Press interview. Credit: Mary Ann Chastain / Associated Press

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