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CAMPAIGN '08

Obama ready to unwind in Hawaii

The presidential candidate says he needs a break. A poll indicates half of voters welcome his time off.

August 07, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

ELKHART, IND. — Everyone seems ready for Barack Obama to take a vacation -- his family, foreign leaders, even a fair number of voters.

After marathon bouts of campaigning, Obama is about to relent. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is heading for Hawaii on Friday for a break that will be his last before the November election.

Weighing the political risks of leaving the continental U.S. in the middle of the campaign, Obama conceded that the timing was not the best. But he told reporters aboard his campaign plane this week that he didn't have much choice. He's visibly tired. Gray hairs are sprouting.

Perhaps more worrisome for Obama, a new poll shows voters may be tiring of him. So he will fulfill a popular workplace dream: a weeklong getaway on a sunny island. Apart from a fundraising event Tuesday, Obama's plan is to rest, not troll for votes, aides said. Arrangements are being made to accommodate reporters (at a cost of $11,500 each for the week), but the campaign is putting out word there probably will be no real news.

"During the middle of a campaign you're always worried about taking some time off," Obama said, standing in the aisle of his campaign plane. "That's the nature of the job. I've been going pretty much straight for 18 months now. . . . So we're going to take the time."

Obama has been keeping a relentless schedule. He took time off in the Virgin Islands in March, but leaped right into the general election campaign after defeating Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in June. Fortified by daily workouts at the gym, he looks fit. But his face seemed drawn as he addressed a town hall meeting here Wednesday, the toll of a week spent parrying Republican rival John McCain's charge that his antidote to the energy crisis is tire inflation.

Politicians who've crossed paths with Obama have urged him to relax. During his dash through the Middle East and Europe last month, he was admonished by British conservative leader David Cameron: "You should be on the beach."

Voters might not be sorry to see him disappear for a spell. A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll released Wednesday showed that 48% believed they'd been hearing too much about Obama. Only 26% had the same feeling about McCain.

McCain is doing what he can to feed impressions that Obama is overexposed. In a recent TV ad, the McCain campaign called the Illinois senator the "biggest celebrity in the world," juxtaposing images of the candidate with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. On Wednesday, McCain put out another ad reinforcing the idea. Airing in 11 states, the ad asks: "Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family?"

A spokesman for McCain painted the Hawaii trip as an indulgence.

"Americans are facing sky-high gas prices, and instead of Barack Obama taking the initiative to call his allies in Congress back from vacation to carve out real energy relief, he's joining them at the beach," Tucker Bounds said.

McCain has spent all week slamming fellow members of Congress for leaving on a five-week summer recess. Although records show McCain has not cast a vote on the Senate floor since April 8, he repeatedly demanded that his colleagues return to Washington to focus on the energy crisis. In a telephone town hall meeting with Pennsylvania voters Tuesday night, he described the congressional holiday as "shameful" and "reprehensible."

The Republican candidate may take some political heat when he takes a vacation of his own later this month at his compound in Hidden Valley, Ariz., near the resort town of Sedona. McCain, who has taken most weekends off since locking up his party's nomination in March, will probably take three or four days there and not a full week, according to Mark Salter, a top aide.

Salter said the McCains had hoped to go fishing and boating on nearby Lake Powell, one of their favorite holiday destinations, but decided the presence of Secret Service, reporters and police would disrupt other vacationers. So the couple will spend their time at their rustic home, which is nestled in low desert hills near the state's famed red rock canyons. McCain likes fishing for catfish and grilling on his backyard barbecue. Obama's trip will be a homecoming. He was born in Hawaii and spent a good part of his boyhood there. His 85-year-old grandmother, who helped raise him, still lives on Oahu, as does his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Part of Obama's vacation will be a family reunion. He said he tries to see his grandmother every year, but put off a trip in 2007 while he battled his Democratic rivals. "So it's been about 19 months since I saw her," Obama said. "She's at an age where it's really important for me to see her."

Then there's the rest of his family: two daughters and wife Michelle, who has voiced worries about her husband's safety on the campaign trail.

"Those little girls need a little love," Obama said. "And so does Michelle, I think. So we're going to take the time."

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writer Bob Drogin in Marion, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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