WASHINGTON — Democratic White House contender Barack Obama is taking his family for a week-long vacation in his birthplace of Hawaii to recharge before the final slog to November's election.
Aides said Obama was leaving Friday and would have a proper rest with no campaigning, save for a fundraising event next Tuesday. However, he does have to finalize his pick of running mate before this month's Democratic convention.
"I'm going to see my grandma, who I haven't seen in almost 18, 19 months," the Illinois senator told reporters aboard his campaign plane en route to Chicago.
"We had the longest primary in history and so I can imagine that folks need a break from politics," he said.
"John McCain got one," he added of his Republican opponent, who wrapped up his party's nomination in March.
"But the majority of people have been fed a constant stream of political chatter and I'm sure that having a couple of weeks off, and enjoying the Olympics, is probably what the doctor ordered for everybody," Obama said.
The Beijing Games open Friday, and Obama has polling evidence to back up his belief that Americans are thirsting for a break from a year and a half of relentless politicking on the White House trail.
However, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds seized on the opportunity to accuse Obama of sunning himself while voters suffer from an economic squeeze.
"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," he said.
Obama said he realized the risks of leaving the campaign field at a time when McCain has been scoring hits with an advertising blitz, likening the Democrat to a vapid celebrity in the mold of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.
But he noted a poll released Wednesday, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, that suggested 48 percent of voters feel they have been overexposed to news about the Democrat.
"We are going to correct that this week," Obama quipped.
Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University, said most voters would sympathize with Obama's need for a respite from the marathon campaign.
"As long as he doesn't go windsurfing, he should be OK," he said, referring to a vacation photograph of 2004 nominee John Kerry that got endlessly replayed in Republican attack ads portraying the Democrat as an effete liberal.
Obama, who survived a marathon primary tussle with Hillary Clinton, has been showing signs of fatigue in the run-up to the Democratic convention starting in Denver on August 25.
"You should be on the beach," British Conservative leader David Cameron told him during a recent meeting in London, at the end of a hectic dash by Obama through Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and Europe.
In an ABC interview Thursday, Obama's wife Michelle said she was not yet focused on the Denver convention, where her husband will be formally crowned the presidential nominee.
"I'm not in the anticipatory mode yet because, quite frankly, we're going on vacation," she said, "to visit Barack's grandma."
There had been several reports that the Obamas were planning to take their two young daughters to see his aging grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, and half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng in Hawaii before the convention.
Asked about any family traditions on holiday, Michelle Obama said: "There can be mean games of Scrabble.
"He and his sister Maya, oh, they are deadly. In fact, sometimes we all just walk away and let them, you know, compete into the night."
Copyright 2008 AFP