Obamas' trip is officially none of our business

Washington correspondentApril 23, 2010 

  • Presidents who stayed at the Grove Park Inn

    William Howard Taft

    Woodrow Wilson

    Calvin Coolidge

    Herbert Hoover

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Richard M. Nixon

    George H.W. Bush

    Bill Clinton

    Barack Obama

    Source: Grove Park Inn

— No one at the White House, or in the city of Asheville, or at one of the South's poshest resorts, will talk much about what President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, might be doing this weekend on their mountain retreat to North Carolina.

But the girls aren't coming along.

Ahem.

"They need a little time alone, perhaps," said Dolly Jenkins-Mullen, chairwoman of the political science department at UNC-Asheville. "Who doesn't want to go off with their wife away from the lovely kids for a couple of days?" she asked.

The first couple are expected to stay at the Grove Park Inn, where rooms range from $280 a night for the room with "a subdued view" to $675 a night for the club level, with 24-hour concierge service and access to the inn's spa. A weekend package offers a couples massage.

The hotel has plenty of experience serving high-value, hush-hush guests. Ten presidents have stayed at the Grove Park Inn.

Spokeswoman Deborah Potter sighed Thursday at the umpteenth press call - "I cannot comment"- and referred queries to the hotel website.

So the resort isn't talking officially, but there's a notice on the site about extra security, and members of the N.C. Chiropractic Association were warned this week to expect delays at their annual convention.

(The Obamas, staying at the same hotel as the chiropractors?)

The couple have planned a totally private weekend, with no public events scheduled. Reporters can watch Air Force One touch down today at the Asheville airport, and watch it go wheels-up Sunday, but that's it.

Still, no presidential action is totally apolitical.

This is Obama's fourth visit to North Carolina as president, and he visited nearly 20 times as a candidate. He took lefty Asheville heartily in the 2008 election but fared worse in the surrounding rural, conservative counties.

Jenkins-Mullen sees the visit as a message to those outlying regions - a way to portray the president as a guy like the rest of us, just out for a weekend getaway with his wife after a few hard months at work.

"Perhaps it does give an opportunity for the tension to die down a bit and to give it a rest," she said. "There's the possibility people will see him as human."

Try the drum circle

The Asheville Tea Party sees it that way already. In a release this week, tea party Chairwoman Erika Franzi welcomed Obama to the city and said she hopes he has a good time in the "mountain paradise."

The town's all atwitter. The Asheville Citizen-Times wants readers to e-mail their Obama snapshots. The paper is warning of heightened security and snipers on rooftops.

John Cram, owner of Blue Studio 1 art gallery downtown, saw a pair of black helicopters around noon Thursday.

Dave Russell, volunteer coordinator for an Earth Day picnic Saturday, was only slightly bummed about a Homeland Security demand that event organizers ground hot-air balloon rides they had planned for the event.

Marla Tambellini, director of marketing at the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, hopes the couple will join the city's Friday night drum circle.

"The vacation plans are still a bit of a mystery," Tambellini said.

Plenty to do, if you ask

The White House, sadly, didn't call her for suggested itineraries. Too bad. She has lots of ideas. The Southern town with a metropolitan area of about 400,000 people, known for its craft beer and artsy sensibility, has plenty to offer.

Tambellini suggested sipping wine on the Grove Park Inn terrace, visiting the spring gardens at the historic Biltmore Estate or strolling among street performers downtown before stopping for a microbrew or the city's farm-to-table epicurean fare.

The mountains are lovely, too, all abloom with spring redbuds.

The couple could take a turn on the Grove Park Inn golf course, designed by Donald Ross. Obama, who stayed in Asheville in 2008 for debate preparations, wistfully said back then that he'd like to return and play the inn's links.

If the president wanted to be of-the-people, Tambellini suggested, the couple could play the Asheville city golf course, also Ross-designed and likely cheaper with a greens fee of $22.

Then again, the weekend forecast calls for rain. Perfect for staying inside.

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service