WOLFEBORO, N.H. — Put a bunch of political reporters together over dinner in the summertime, and the subject inevitably turns to their anti-Bush bias.
No, not their bias against his policies. Their near-universal dislike of his summer White House: his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The ranch is hot, there's almost no access to the president or his aides and thus no news, and there's little to do in nearby Waco once you've toured the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum or the Dr Pepper Museum.
Thus, reporters like to handicap candidates based not on what they'd do in Iraq or how they'd fix health care, but on where they'd go to escape D.C.
Some of the early favorites:
Republican Mitt Romney, who has an 11-acre spread in New Hampshire on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee, complete with boathouse and stables. The press could stay at the Wolfeboro Inn, mere steps to the Jet Skis.
Democrat Barack Obama, who likes to visit his sister and grandmother in Honolulu in the winter. Surfing lessons between briefings?
Democrat Hillary Clinton, who doesn't own a summer home but who could repeat the Martha's Vineyard treks she made with her husband during HIS White House years. Sailing, parties, seafood.
Of course, the media don't always get their way.
In 2004, reporters practically salivated at the notion of a John Kerry presidency and the thought of summers on Nantucket and skiing jaunts to Sun Valley, Idaho — just two of the places that Kerry and his wife have getaway homes.
But Kerry lost, and the press corps was back in Crawford the next August.
What press corps there is, that is.
The lack of news and the cost of sending reporters are squeezing news organizations and cutting the size of the press corps that covers presidential vacations.
It wasn't always so. During the Cold War and even into the Clinton presidency, the media felt obliged to stay close to the commander in chief. And many presidents went to places where they could be seen golfing or boating — and the press corps could do the same in its off hours.
Among the favorites:
Martha's Vineyard. Many reporters took their families with them, free to hit the beach each day after a routine briefing. The one outbreak of news came in 1998, when Bill Clinton admitted his affair with Monica Lewinsky just before vacation and aides described a chilly atmosphere inside the presidential beach house. Then Clinton announced a bombing of terrorist camps in Afghanistan and abruptly returned, alone, to Washington with a handful of reporters in tow, still wearing shorts and golf shirts.
Kennebunkport. A media favorite — the pro-Bush bias here — where George H.W. Bush still plays golf nearby and hits the ocean in his powerful boat. The press got both the beauty of the Maine coast and news during the first President Bush's summertime visits, including the Chinese crackdown in Tiananmen Square, Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait and an attempted coup in the Soviet Union.
Santa Barbara. Ronald Reagan spent long stretches at his ranch — totaling nearly a year out of his eight in office. The press covering Reagan had little news to write, but got plenty of compensation through staying and dining in Santa Barbara.
Hyannisport. John F. Kennedy frequently retreated to his family's seaside compound on Cape Cod, where sailing, boating and touch football spelled glamour to the country.
ON THE WEB
Here are some of the locales for summer White Houses past, present and perhaps future: