Obama family heads to Hawaii, campaign stays home

SACRAMENTO Fri Aug 8, 2008 6:33pm EDT

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle step off their chartered plane with their daughters Malia (R) and Sasha (2nd L) at Indianapolis International Airport May 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle step off their chartered plane with their daughters Malia (R) and Sasha (2nd L) at Indianapolis International Airport May 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - It's not a battleground state and it's unlikely to tip the U.S. election in November, but White House hopeful Barack Obama headed to Hawaii on Friday - minus, largely, his presidential campaign.

The Democratic candidate is going on vacation, and although he is flying on his campaign plane, most of his staff are staying behind.

The Illinois senator and his wife, Michelle, and two young daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, took off for the state where Obama grew up and where his grandmother, who helped raise him, still lives. They will spend the week at a rented house and, other than a welcoming rally and a fundraiser, no major campaign events are planned.

So it's not a working vacation -- something his Republican rival John McCain sees as an opening.

A spokesman for the Arizona senator, who has been pushing Congress to cut short its summer break and return to Washington to work on energy issues, needled Obama for heading to Hawaii's sun.

"Instead of calling on his friends and allies in Congress to return to put a much-needed energy policy in place to fight sky-high gas prices, Barack Obama is joining them with a beach vacation of his own," said Tucker Bounds.

The presumptive Republican nominee, who frequently spends weekends off the campaign trail at his home in Arizona, had a full schedule planned for the week ahead with events in the industrial Midwest and on the Pacific Coast, his spokesman said.

Obama does not seem to be worried about ceding the spotlight and suggested it might help reduce any fatigue that some voters have said they are feeling from seeing him daily on the news.

POTENTIAL PITFALLS

But the trip does have risks. Les than three months before election day, any time away from voters could be seen as time wasted.

And, though there are no major gaffes to avoid like on his recent trip overseas, there are potential pitfalls: pictures in a bathing suit, for example, or a sense among voters that a Hawaii holiday is another sign of perceived elitism.

"He needs to be very careful," said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "Some of those undecided middle class voters, or even working class voters who didn't go for Obama in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, won't like images of Obama on the beaches of the ultimate luxury destination."

Photographers may not get many chances to snap the vacationing Obama.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, was filmed windsurfing and had trouble shaking Republicans' elitism charges associated with the image.

Obama is unlikely to fall into that trap. He acknowledged some concern about taking time off but said that was offset by the need for some family time and a desire to visit his grandmother, who does not travel.

"During the middle of a campaign you are always worried about taking some time off. That's the nature of the job," the Illinois senator told reporters earlier this week.

"It's been about 19 months since I saw (my grandmother). And she is at an age where it's really important for me to see her. And those little girls need a little love -- as does Michelle, I think. So we are going to take the time."

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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