Across the United States Wednesday, Americans began celebrating 236 years of independence with backyard barbeques, family gatherings and, of course, fireworks.
While many celebrations have been scaled-down or canceled due to weather-related power outages and concerns of spreading wildfires amid dry, hot weather, many were still preparing celebrations, albeit in less-than-traditional ways.
Hundreds of thousands from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic are spending the Fourth of July like America's founders did in 1776, without the conveniences of electricity and air conditioning.
Fireworks on the National Mall in Washington are planned to go forward, however.
President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney will spend most of the day with their families. But both have also carved out time to connect with voters by participating in Independence Day events.
Obama, who spent the weekend at Camp David, Md., hosted a naturalization ceremony for active-duty troops in the White House's East Room, followed by a picnic with military families as well as his administration staff and their families on the South Lawn, early Wednesday.
Romney, meanwhile, is out on a family reunion at his New Hampshire vacation home and took part in a Fourth of July parade in Wolfeboro, N.H.
“What a perfect way to celebrate America’s birthday,” said Obama as he spoke to the 25 new citizens and their families in the White House’s East Room Wednesday morning.
“This is one of my favorite things to do; it brings me great joy and inspiration because it reminds us we are a country that is bound together not simply by ethnicity and bloodlines, but by fidelity to a set of ideas,” he added.
Explaining that America’s history of success would not be possible without immigrants, Obama called on lawmakers to address comprehensive immigration reform, including the DREAM Act currently stalled in Congress.
In June, the president issued an executive order bypassing Congress and allowing more than 800,000 young people to remain in the U.S. without risk of deportation.
“The lesson of these 236 years is clear; immigration makes America stronger,” he said Wednesday. “It positions America to lead in the 21st century. These young men and woman are testaments to that.”
On Thursday, Obama will kick off a two-day, swing-state bus tour.
Romney, whose family reunion on his lakefront compound in Wolfeboro includes sports and games known as the "Romney Olympics," is also not entirely abstaining from politics.
Romney and his family paraded through the center of the New England hamlet on Wednesday morning, their only official public appearance during a weeklong family break from the campaign trail, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
It won't be the first time Romney has been spotted around Wolfeboro since he arrived last weekend. His whole family — 30 in all — has gathered at their lakeside estate for the annual family vacation. And even though the family patriarch is now running against President Barack Obama, they stuck to many of their normal routines: attending church, grabbing ice cream in town, and boating on the lake.
Still, the vacation hasn't been all fun and games for the Republican presidential nominee. Romney huddled Tuesday with his top advisers, including his campaign manager and the aide overseeing his vice presidential search. His top strategist was in town shooting video for new TV ads.
Officially, the campaign says the week's focus is the family time and a welcome chance to relax before the campaign-push leading up to the August GOP convention. But unofficially, the bit of down time is a chance for Romney to consider how the campaign is going and adjust strategy as necessary in a contest that polls show is close.
Underscoring the stakes, Obama canceled his own annual summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard.
Behind the scenes in Wolfeboro, Romney is all but certain to be at work just as much as he is at play — and probably focused on the biggest decision he will make between now and when he officially accepts the GOP's presidential nomination in late August. His self-imposed deadline for picking a running mate "before the convention" is looming large and the search for a No. 2 is well under way.
His campaign is staying mum on whether that was a topic of conversation early Tuesday when he and his wife, Ann, spent at least 45 minutes talking with campaign manager Matt Rhoades, senior adviser Beth Myers, and top strategist Stuart Stevens on the deck that overlooks the lawn behind his lakefront home. Romney's five sons — particularly his eldest son, Tagg — also serve as informal political advisers, and all have been on hand all week, virtually ensuring that the campaign and the running mate search were discussed.
And there's more to the political side of Romney's vacation than just the highly anticipated vice presidential pick.
While the candidate and his family haven't encouraged media coverage of their ice cream outings and sports event, they also haven't shied away from it.
That's meant that Americans who are largely unfamiliar with the former Massachusetts governor see glossy images of the large Romney clan playing on and around sun-splashed Lake Winnipesaukee — and the usually buttoned-up patriarch clearly at ease. He's been photographed riding on a Jet Ski, playing volleyball, relaxing on the beach and eating an ice cream cone at Bailey's Bubble while surrounded by more than a dozen of his 18 grandchildren.
The vacation has painted a family portrait of the Romneys that's led at least one pundit to compare them to the Kennedy clan, the American political dynasty that gathered during summers in Hyannis Port, Mass.
Their athletic, photogenic family helped label President John F. Kennedy's era as "Camelot." The vacation images have also given Romney, who's fought a perception that he can't connect with ordinary voters, a chance to show an authentic lighter side.
"You all have your life jackets?" Romney asked the handful of grandchildren who crowded onto his boat Monday night after the trip to the picturesque town's ice cream store. His usually coifed hair windblown and his face tanned, Romney hopped behind the wheel of the boat and piloted it away from the dock himself.
His vacation ends Sunday when he's scheduled to head to New York for fundraising events — and resume his campaign schedule fulltime.
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