Obama’s Travel Dropped Sharply in 2013

The president’s visits to Ohio and other politically important states fell dramatically in 2013, and no one seems really unhappy about that.

US President Barack Obama (C) shares a beer with Suzanne Woods (R) and Jennifer Klanac (L) during at Ziggy's Pub and Restaurant Amherst, Ohio, July 5, 2012, during an unannounced visit while on a bus tour of Ohio and Pennslyvania. 
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
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George E. Condon Jr.
Nov. 29, 2013, midnight

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. It was only 11 months ago that res­id­ents of Ohio thought Pres­id­ent Obama would nev­er leave them alone. He was there, it seemed, al­most every week, ask­ing their deep­est thoughts, shar­ing long bus rides, chat­ting at ice-cream so­cials, and even down­ing a few beers in a pub.

Twenty-two trips span­ning 25 days, Obama was there — more than he was in any oth­er state.

But now? A mere two vis­its in 2013 — quick in-and-out trips with a com­mence­ment speech and a vis­it to a steel mill. No overnight stays. No ice cream, no cheese­bur­gers, no Bud Light.

Ohioans, and res­id­ents of oth­er elec­tion battle­ground states, have had these flings be­fore. Every four years it is a dif­fer­ent suit­or, and 2013 was the col­lect­ive morn­ing after.

All nine of Cam­paign 2012’s hotly con­tested states — Ohio, Flor­ida, North Car­o­lina, Vir­gin­ia, Wis­con­sin, Col­or­ado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hamp­shire — went from see­ing Obama for 137 days in 2012 to only 19 days this year. Some of those states, in­clud­ing Iowa and New Hamp­shire, have scored not even one vis­it in 2013.

In fact, the whole coun­try has seen less of the pres­id­ent. Last year, Obama spent 178 days out­side Wash­ing­ton. This year, through Thanks­giv­ing, he has spent only 94 days out of town.

The let­down is nat­ur­al. But it still can be a little jar­ring, es­pe­cially in Ohio, be­cause Ohio was spe­cial for Obama. He was par­tic­u­larly ar­dent in his pur­suit of those 18 elect­or­al votes. Who could for­get the strolls in all those parks ““ Schiller Park in Colum­bus, Wash­ing­ton Park in Toledo, Cent­ral Park in Mans­field, Tri­angle Park in Dayton? Or that ice cream so­cial in San­dusky on a Ju­ly day so swel­ter­ing the pres­id­ent had to race to eat his cone be­fore it melted? That was the same day the pres­id­ent stopped for a cheese­bur­ger at the Kozy Corners Diner in Oak Har­bor and pulled his ar­mored bus up to Ziggy’s Pub & Res­taur­ant in Am­h­erst for a pint of Bud Light with the loc­als. And even for the most jaded Ohioan, all that woo­ing was kind of flat­ter­ing and ex­cit­ing.

Ohioans in­sist they un­der­stand, but polls sug­gest there is hurt. A statewide sur­vey re­leased earli­er this week showed the pres­id­ent’s ap­prov­al rat­ing in the state at only 33 per­cent — a sharp drop from the 50.1 per­cent of the vote he re­ceived against Re­pub­lic­an Mitt Rom­ney only a year ago.

Re­pub­lic­ans in the state privately sug­gest that Ohio Demo­crats are cel­eb­rat­ing Obama’s ab­sence, fear­ing that every vis­it will hurt Ed FitzGer­ald, the Demo­crats’ top can­did­ate against Re­pub­lic­an Gov. John Kasich in next year’s gubernat­ori­al con­test. “Un­less things change,” said one vet­er­an strategist, “they really won’t want him here next year.”

But Jerry Aus­tin, who has run sev­er­al suc­cess­ful Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns in Ohio, pre­dicted that the state will see lots more of Obama next year “if his pop­ular­ity re­turns and he is an as­set to the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee.” Former Rep. Den­nis Eck­art, a Clev­e­land Demo­crat, agreed, say­ing this lull in vis­its “might be the calm be­fore the storm, with 2014 be­ing a key year.”

Un­til then, though, Ohioans are left with only their memor­ies of the court­ship of 2012.

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