Panic mode as Barack Obama goes on vacation …

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Few people are more likely to need a holiday than Barack Obama. Yet as he heads off on Friday for his first week-long break since he launched his presidential bid 19 months ago, Mr Obama is dogged by rising angst about his campaign’s direction.

By Edward Luce in Washington

Although he has run what is widely acclaimed to be one of the most impressive campaigns in years, Democrats live in fear of Mr Obama falling prey to the kinds of accident that derailed predecessors in earlier cycles.

With polls showing him neck-and-neck with John McCain at a stage at which many Democrats expected he would be in the clear lead, they worry about the kind of stray image that helped to defeat John Kerry in 2004.

In a piece of footage endlessly recycled to mock his supposed elitism and even foreignness, Mr Kerry was caught on camera windsurfing off Massachusetts. Since Mr Obama is taking his holiday at a private beach house in Hawaii, surrounded by the secret service, campaign officials worry less about his exposure to the paparazzi. Besides, they say, most Americans will be tuned into the Olympics.

“During the middle of a campaign you are always worried about taking some time off – that’s the nature of the job,” Mr Obama told reporters this week. “But you know I have been going pretty much straight for 18 months now.”

Democrats say that Mr Obama needs to accomplish two critical things on his return next week. First, he must put on a good event to announce the selection of his running mate. Second, his speech at the party convention in Denver must be exceptional.

In contrast to the jittery nerves among Democrats in general, the Obama campaign conveys serene confidence that it will accomplish both. Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant, says: “If he pulls off a good convention, as you would expect him to do, then he will go into the general election with a serious money advantage over John McCain.”

The odds, says Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman and now head of the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, are still in Mr Obama’s favour. “This is a candidate who has barely made any serious gaffes in spite of having had no pause since the campaign began,” he said.

As for Mr Obama’s Hawaii trip, many believe he has got his priorities straight. “It has been about 19 months since I saw my grandmother,” he said. “And she is at an age where it’s really important for me to see her. And those little girls need a little love – as does Michelle. So we are going to take the time, all right?”

The Financial Times

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