President Obama’s visit to Boise, Idaho on Wednesday leaves him just three states in the entire country he hasn’t been to as president: South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.
Now, Obama lost all these states — big time — as he noted in his speech at Boise State University: “Of course, in the general election, I got whupped. I got whupped twice, in fact. But that’s OK. I’ve got no hard feelings.”
But the president has visited plenty of states where he lost badly. (He only got 28 percent of the vote in Wyoming in 2012. Though, to be fair, he only visited there once in 2009.)
No doubt Obama will want to check all 50 off his bucket list before his presidency ends – though including his travels as a candidate in 2008 he’s already hit them all. Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed as much, saying he wouldn’t call it a “bucket list” … “But I do think the president would like to have the opportunity to visit all 50 states as president of the United States. So hopefully we’ll be able to get that done in the next two years.”
Of the last six presidents, just Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush made it to every one – Bush impressively doing so in his first and only term. George W. Bush came close with 49 states under his belt as president, but he never made it to Vermont.
Political science professor Brendan Doherty, who tracks presidential travel, writes in his book “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign” that to get to 50, both Clinton and Bush 2 had to decide whether to travel to a sparsely populated state that didn’t support them in their respective campaigns:
Both men had traveled to forty-nine of the fifty states that they had led as president, and they had to decide whether to visit the fiftieth and final state in their waning days in office. Clinton had yet to set foot in Nebraska; Bush, in Vermont. Clinton did choose to make his first and only presidential trip to Nebraska on December 8, 2000, when he gave a morning speech on foreign policy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then flew to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, where he spoke to the community before attending a fundraiser for the Nebraska Democratic Party in nearby Omaha. While a journey to Vermont by Bush would have allowed him, in the words of his former press secretary, Ari Fleischer, “to check the box to say he was in all 50 states,” Bush did not make the trip.
Bush’s decision not to visit Vermont, Doherty later explains, might be because by 2008 “thirty towns and cities in Vermont had adopted resolutions urging Bush’s impeachment.” One town even called for his arrest if he ever showed up.
According to Doherty’s research, Idaho, Utah and South Dakota are among the least visited states by presidents, so Obama’s decision to save them for last isn’t surprising.
But Obama has said he’ll travel to more red states (he doesn’t have a re-election to worry about, you know) to make good on his 2004 DNC convention speech that there is not “a liberal America or a conservative America, but a United States of America.”
And his last three remaining states have a good bit to offer. South Dakota has Mount Rushmore and roaming buffalo, South Carolina has charming Charleston and some solid golfing in Hilton Head, and Utah (where Obama had his worst showing in 2012 with only 25 percent of the vote) has the Great Salt Lake and Park City skiing.