Democrats Question Obama's First-Year Travel Record

President Obama told a fundraising audience in St. Louis this week that "it's nice to get out of Washington."

But when the president found time to leave the nation's capital last year, his destination often wasn't just another city, but another country.

Obama made more foreign trips during his first year in office -- 10 trips involving stops in 21 nations -- than any U.S. president before him. Now, with the fate of health care reform, his top legislative priority, so uncertain, a number of prominent Democratic strategists have begun questioning whether Obama's aides should have scheduled more domestic travel during his first year in office, starting soon after Inauguration Day.

"They made a decision to go fix the image of the United States overseas and use [the president's] popularity right then and there to do it," said Joe Trippi, a former campaign manager for Howard Dean.

"I think that turned out to be a mistake," he said. "If that current tour that he's doing on health care had occurred with that popularity, he might have been able to get health care passed right then and there with the votes that he had, and carried that momentum into other domestic agenda items."

Dee Dee Myers, a press secretary in the Clinton White House, wrote in Politico on Friday that Obama needs to "get back in touch" with the American people.

"In the past few weeks, Obama has increased his travel outside Washington," she wrote. "That's a good move."

Evolving over the last five decades, the modern presidency has seen the use of Air Force One ramped up to warp speed. More than two months lapsed in President Kennedy's term before he made use of his official airplane. By the Clinton era, however, political scientists had begun wringing their hands over "the perpetual campaign."

According to an article, "The Permanence of the 'Permanent Campaign:' George W. Bush's Public Presidency," published in Presidential Studies Quarterly, President Clinton made 119 appearances in 87 U.S. cities in 1993.

In 2001, President George W. Bush -- despite seeing his official travel abruptly and dramatically curtailed by the Sept. 11 attacks -- kept up a similar pace, making 101 appearances in 88 cities, the article found.

Adopting the Clinton model for first-year domestic travel, Bush managed to win congressional passage of his top two legislative agenda items: his tax cuts package and the No Child Left Behind education reform law.

"The goal was to get [Bush] out into the states," recalled Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, a former communications officer in the Republican National Committee and Bush White House.

"When you're talking about passing major legislation that will change people's lives, you want to be out there talking to them, explaining to them -- and also getting feedback, frankly, from the people, about how this really will impact them. We don't have all the answers in Washington," she said with a laugh, "and soon as we start to think we do, we're in trouble."

By contrast, Obama in 2009 visited 58 cities in 30 states. (None of these figures includes vacation days.) But aides to Obama may now be embracing the "perpetual campaign" model. His current series of personal appearances on behalf of the endangered health care reform legislation has returned him to swing states like Missouri and Pennsylvania. And as the Washington Post noted, the president's newly intensive domestic itinerary has him "visiting media markets that touch multiple congressional districts."

Fox News' Tommy Firth and CBS News' Mark Knoller contributed to this report.