The McCain campaign has done its best this week to get the media world to focus on the lapse in time since Sen. Barack Obama last visited Iraq. Two years without getting on the ground information, John McCain and his aides argued, is far too long for any candidate vying for the White House.
A similar line of attack could be levied at McCain when it comes to one of America's largest domestic tragedies.
Up until traveling there one month ago, the Arizona Republican had made just one public tour of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina touched down in August 2005, according to the Washington Post's travel records.
When the hurricane first struck, he was celebrating his birthday with President Bush in Arizona. In the days that followed, he urged Congress to make sacrifices to help the recovery effort. But he also expressed concern about going overboard and burdening "future generations of Americans" with "the highest deficit, probably, in the history of this country."
McCain's first post-hurricane visit to the region was in March 2006. His trip, according to those in attendance, was a full-day affair touring all aspects of the storm's destruction. It came, it should be noted, after pining by local officials for more federal attention including, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu insisting that any politician serious about a presidential run would have to, at the very least, get a first hand account of the hurricane's destruction.
In the year that followed McCain did not return to New Orleans. He did, as noted by a Mother Jones feature on the topic, vote against establishing a congressional commission to examine the federal, state, and local responses to Katrina. Later, he voted against allowing up to 52 weeks of unemployment benefits to people affected by the hurricane. In July 2007, he ventured back to the Gulf Coast, but, while he held an open news conference, the purpose of the trip was officially a private fundraiser.
Finally, two years after he first toured New Orleans, McCain returned to the battered city. On April 25, 2008, the GOP frontrunner traveled to the lower ninth ward with the state's newly elected governor, Bobby Jindal. It was what the Times Picayune called "an effort to distance himself from a signature failure of the Bush administration." He is currently scheduled to return to the city within the next week to attend rallies and host a town hall event.
Contrast this schedule to Obama's. By February 2008, the Illinois Democrat, according to his website, had visited New Orleans five since Katrina struck. Those trips included public announcements about Gulf Coast recovery plans, tours of devastated areas, public speeches, and campaign events.
Of course, the idea that one gains intrinsic knowledge of a political situation, war, or disaster area simply by visiting that regions contains serious flaws. Moreover, stops in New Orleans are not entirely analogous to trips to Iraq, of which McCain has made eight to Obama's one. Geographically, the Gulf Coast is closer than the Middle East. But from a presidential prerogative, the commander-in-chief seemingly has more direct sway over what to do about troops in Iraq than the pace of hurricane recovery efforts in the Gulf, which are determined by local and state governments as well.
But should Obama travel to the war zone in the next few weeks - and his campaign suggests that he will - then the two locales are indeed comparable. Both presidential candidates would have ventured to political hotspots for the first time in a long time in correspondence with the launch of their general election campaigns.
In the end, ironically, it could be Sen. Hillary Clinton, not either of the two likely White House nominees, who would be the candidate most admired for her post-Katrina platform. As Anne Milling, founder of the Women of the Storm, an organization of Louisiana women who have organized recovery efforts, told the Huffington Post:
"Of the three candidates, Hillary had the most developed plans when she came last June and we the Women of the Storm had a dinner with her. I thought that she had given it more thought than anybody. I think McCain's statement this last go around, he got it with businessman, but his first step has been to distance himself from the president. In terms of a developed plan we haven't heard it. Same with Obama."