Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Politics

Elections

Obama Chic: Oahu, the New Western White House?

President-elect Barack Obama acknowledges the traveling press corps as he arrives to play golf in Kailua, Hawaii Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008. Behind him is Eugene Kang, a member of Obama's staff. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

It's 8 a.m. on Monday morning, and the president-elect's press corps is up and ready for work. 

And brutal work it is, sitting on the deck at the Westin on the south side of Oahu, wearing beach attire, leafing through newspapers, gazing out at the ocean and banyan trees. 

"It's definitely not the campaign trail," says FOX News producer Bonney Kapp, recalling the ocean swim she took the day before. "Last Christmas, I was in Des Moines." 

Barack Obama has come a long way since the Iowa caucuses. This Christmas, he's reinstating his tradition of vacationing in Hawaii. And if the daily routine of the press corps is any gauge, the president-elect is about to overhaul the concept of a traditional presidential retreat. 

Kailua, the town where Obama is staying this week, is a far cry from Crawford, Texas, or Kennebunkport, Maine. And it gives new meaning to the term Western White House

The cowboy images of President Bush, chopping wood and wearing sturdy work gloves in Crawford, have already been replaced by images of a presidential surfer dude. Obama, pictured  shirtless and stepping out of the ocean, looks more like Daniel Craig in a Bond poster than John Wayne

"Everyone's keeping an eye out," said Geoff Lee, owner of Island Glassworks in Kailua. Lee said he spotted Obama working out at his gym when he visited in August, but he hasn't seen him this week. Lee said all the local business owners are hoping Kailua becomes the president-elect's favorite getaway destination. 

Obama-gazers can actually expect the incoming first family to split their down-time between the South Side of Chicago (where Barack and Michelle Obama will keep their home) and Oahu, where the president-elect's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and her family live. 

The scene in Chicago is a bit different, especially in the run-up to Inauguration Day. Last week, Obama held a press conference just about every day to announce new members of his administration. 

But the temperature in Chicago Monday peaked at 12 degrees. It was 80 in Kailua. And there were no public appearances to speak of. 

"Our workspace is basically the beach," said FOX News producer Aaron Bruns, who's staying in Honolulu while covering the president-elect. 

The Obamas don't have a permanent place in Oahu. This week, they're staying in a $9 million single-story oceanfront home, over a mountain from downtown Honolulu where Obama grew up. 

The five-bedroom house sits on almost an acre of land, and the adjacent beach is a favorite spot for windsurfers, kayakers and dogwalkers. 

An Obama transition aide said the president-elect would probably retreat to Chicago more often, since it's closer to Washington, but that he would try to make it out to Hawaii when time and work permit. 

While in the 50th State, the itinerary does not include the time-honored Bush tradition of clearing brush. Instead, Obama works out just about every day -- toying with water sports, playing basketball and occasionally golf in between. (The transition aide would not reveal Obama's handicap to FOXNews.com, claiming to be in the dark on the matter. "I'm not that good," Obama told curious reporters in the middle of his round Sunday.) 

It's unclear whether Kailua will soon pop up with the kind of souvenir shops and touristy sites that once dotted Crawford. 

Jamie Burgess, who works at one of the few remaining souvenir stores in Crawford, said she expects some semblance of Obama-mania to show up in Oahu. 

"Every president's home has something going on," she said. 

She said her Red Bull Gift and Gallery, which has been open since 2000, has hosted its share of tourists and famous faces over the past eight years, thanks to the president's ranch nearby. 

"We've seen people from all over the world," she said, noting that first lady Laura Bush visited over the summer. 

She said come January, the Red Bull will probably be the last souvenir shop in Crawford, continuing to sell keepsakes like Bush Christmas ornaments, shot glasses and coins. 

So far, those shops have not surfaced in Kailua. And maybe they won't. After all, Bush's residence was the draw in Crawford, a town of between 700 and 800 people on the outskirts of Waco. 

Kailua, with 50 times as many people, is across the island from Honolulu, Pearl Harbor and several resort areas. But Lee said Obama could still draw national attention to Kailua the way George H.W. Bush brought attention to Kennebunkport. 

Kapp, who has been sent on assignment to Crawford before, noted with some relief that Obama has picked such a tropical locale for kicking back. 

"It's hot and dusty (in Crawford). Here it's hot and sandy and beautiful," she said. "It's very different. People here are wearing flip-flops ... even the correspondents will have bathing suits on when they do their live shots. 

"Crawford is jeans and cowboy boots, and there's no breeze." 

FOXNews.com's Judson Berger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.