President Obama traveled over the Potomac River Wednesday to Falls Church, Virginia - a suburb of Washington DC - for a backyard discussion on health care at the home of Paul and Frances Brayshaw. This was Mr. Obama's third appearance on someone's lawn in the last five weeks, and there are three more such events scheduled for next week.
The image of a politician in his rolled up shift sleeves, talking outside on a beautiful day with a small group of voters is not new - we're familiar with the pictures of candidates during the Iowa caucuses in homes explaining their political positions, policies, their platform; we've seen incumbent politicians at home in their districts talking with their constituents at parades and barbecues about voters concerns as to how country is doing; but for a Commander-in-Chief to leave the traditional podium for a patio, that's a little different, right?
Well actually, no, it's not. During his reelection in 1980, President Jimmy Carter appeared in a television ad called "President Carter in Mrs Reed's Backyard. "
"There's a limit to how much I want the government to stick its nose into people's private affairs, including your family's," Mr. Carter says in the ad, where he sits at a picnic table explaining to suburban women how the then tanking economy was doing
"This is as old as the hills, or as old as modern television," Larry Sabato, Director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia says of backyard stumping. "This is an attempt to remove some of the off-putting trappings of the presidency and connect to real people," Sabato explains "What better place to do it then a backyard, where the votes are, where people meet and have cookouts."
And of course the suburbs count. It's where the swing voters are, in enormous numbers. Combine that with an intimate locale like a backyard, and you have a stylistic setting for the president to hear from voters and deliver his message.
But, Sabato warns, the location pales in comparison to the discussion. "It's background noise, it doesn't matter. The substance overwhelms the style," Sabato asserts, arguing the topic of the economy or health care is what really matters to voters, not the president's appearance on their property. "If things are going well and the economy is humming, you could speak from your bathroom, it would work just as well," Sabato says. The location he argues just doesn't matter.
President Obama, of course, ties today's topic of the new health care law to the overall economic health of the country, and economic health was the topic of Mr. Obama's previous garden appearances - August 18th in Columbus, Ohio and last Monday in Fairfax, Virginia, another Washington suburb.
The economy will also be the focus for next week's events, which the White House bills as "Conversations with Middle-Class Families" where the president will meet with famlies "to listen to their concerns and to discuss specific ways to jumpstart job creation and strengthen the middle class." The events will bring Mr Obama to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Des Moines, Iowa, and Richmond, Virginia.