Politics & Government

Florida tourism officials hope Obama will swim in Gulf during vacation

When the first lady visited Florida's Gulf Coast, she got her feet wet. Will the president dive in?

Much may ride on President Barack Obama's fondness for beaches and body surfing as he readies for next month's family vacation in the Sunshine State. The White House hasn't released an itinerary, but media reports have him and his family visiting somewhere on the Florida Gulf.

For a tourism industry spending millions to convince vacationers that the Gulf remains a safe a place to swim, footage of Obama plunging into the surf would provide an instant publicity coup after a summer of grueling media coverage of soiled beaches.

"He's got to get in the water," said Mark Bellinger, director of the Emerald Coast tourism bureau, which promotes Destin and nearby areas. "I'd be ecstatic."

For a president who spent much of his youth in Hawaii and still likes to ride the waves there on vacation, a snub of the Gulf Coast surf would surely be noted. He was famously photographed in swim trunks during the 2008 campaign, and the lack of a similar image could mean one more media setback for the Gulf Coast.

"It would be kind of: 'Hmmmm. He didn't get in the water?'" said Dale Brill, who left his job as Florida's tourism director to run the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. "I'll bet you he goes swimming."

So far the first couple has only made working trips to the Gulf Coast, separately touring Florida beaches and meeting with local dignitaries and business executives. The closest either President Obama or wife Michelle got to swimming was during her visit to Panama City Beach two weeks ago, when she shed her shoes and walked barefoot in the Gulf surf.

"The power of those images were so strong," said Dan Rowe, president of the Panama City Beach tourism bureau.

Added Chris Thomspon, director of state tourism bureau Visit Florida: "If the president goes swimming, I think it would be awesome."

The White House announced the Gulf Coast family trip after critics questioned why the Obamas were vacationing in Maine this summer while urging Americans to visit the Gulf.

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