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Obamas take trip to North Carolina mountains

The last time Barack Obama was in Asheville, N.C., he complained he was too busy to play golf. The president plans to fix that this weekend.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The last time Barack Obama was here, he complained he was too busy to play golf. The president plans to fix that this weekend.

He and first lady Michelle Obama arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina Friday afternoon for a private weekend without the first daughters.

The intent was to be on vacation, and Obama didn't even plan to make calls on the seething debate over financial reform legislation in the Senate, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday. "Knock on wood," Gibbs said.

On Obama's previous visit, during the final month of his presidential campaign, Obama prepared for a debate and rallied supporters.

"What a spectacular place," Obama said during the Oct. 5, 2008, stop in Asheville.

"The only thing I don't like about it is that I had to drive by the golf course, and it looks really nice. And my staff won't let me play. I'm going to have to come back."

Back, he is. And not just for the golf: The president always keeps his eye on politics.

Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976. He defeated Republican Sen. John McCain by just 0.4 percentage points in a state that favored President George W. Bush's re-election by 12 percentage points four years earlier. His aggressive campaign — and volunteers from bordering South Carolina — helped turn North Carolina in Obama's favor and reshape the national political map.

As Democrats' fortunes have sunk, though, Obama's trip to North Carolina reflects a nod to a middle class vacation — in contrast to last year's trips to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and his native Hawaii.

Asheville, a city of about 73,000 residents, is home to the Vanderbilt family's Biltmore Estate, a tourist draw, along with scores of art galleries and restaurants.

One of the city's best-known destinations, the Grove Park Inn, claims that 10 previous presidents have vacationed there. The White House is not commenting on where the Obamas will be spending their evenings.

The White House says the Obamas have no public plans while in North Carolina, although the president will speak at Sunday's memorial in Beckley, W.Va., for the victims of the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in 40 years. The April 5 explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine took 29 lives.