While President Barack Obama’s standing in Washington has dropped a notch or two in the year since he and his family last spent their holiday vacation in Kailua, the thrill is definitely not gone for many residents about him coming back.
"I’m very excited," said Virginia Carnohan, owner of The Cottage gift shop about two miles from the trio of multimillion-dollar beachfront homes where the Obama family and friends will spend Christmas and New Year’s.
"We have a local boy who’s president, and everybody’s very proud of that," said Chuck Prentiss, chairman of the Kailua Neighborhood Board.
First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha arrived Saturday evening, but the president is not expected until today.
Last year, delayed by deliberations on the health care reform bill, the family did not get to Hawaii until Christmas Eve. This will be their third consecutive holiday visit to Kailua.
The Secret Service began alerting residents along Kailuana Place last week that checkpoints will soon go up. Hawaiian Telecom personnel were busily repairing telephone wiring outside one of the Obama homes, which sit midway down a cul-de-sac.
Once authorities throw up a cordon around the neighborhood, simple pleasures like walking the beach or paddling in a canal near the three houses will become difficult if not impossible.
The Democratic president is not expected to engage in fundraisers or other overtly political events. Dante Carpenter, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, said he has asked whether Obama could be enticed into attending even a low-key event, but has not heard back.
"I think he’s been up to his eyeballs in horse manure and gun smoke, not necessarily in that order," Carpenter said. "He may be looking for time with his family, and that’s about it. I can’t blame him."
During an interview with a Hawaii radio station before the midterm elections, Obama said he loves a secluded beach at a nearby Marine Corps base and intends to "hit a couple of golf courses." His half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her family live on Oahu.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a college friend of the president’s father who knew Obama as a child, said Hawaii is something of a salve for the nation’s chief executive.
The Obamas "love it when they come here," the Democratic governor said yesterday. "He genuinely understands that this is … an atmosphere where he’s not being set upon. He knows he’s home with people who love him and care for him and his family."
Joel Cavasso, a real estate agent who is handling the rental of the houses where Obama and his group will stay, said the president’s visit is still important to Kailua residents.
"I remember when John F. Kennedy came here and I was sitting on my father’s shoulders to get a glimpse of him," Cavasso said. "It’s a big deal for people to see their president. … Oops, I think I might have just aged myself."
Carnohan, the gift shop owner, said she is hoping Obama at least stops for a bite at a well-known restaurant across a small plaza from her business.
"He brings a lot of energy to Kailua," she said. "There’s a buzz that translates into more curiosity-seekers, and that translates into more foot traffic. … It’s kind of like my own little (economic) stimulus."
A Kailua business that has been a regular stop for Obama and his daughters the last three years is Island Snow, a beachwear store that is most famous for its shave ice — a version of what mainlanders know as snow cones.
"That was the first time I’ve ever met anyone that important in my life," said a still-beaming Cheyne Vincent, 20, an Island Snow supervisor who snagged a picture with the president at the shop last year.
Vincent is hoping that Obama again shows up with his two daughters, several friends and the small army of Secret Service, local police and media that tied up the block for 90 minutes last year.
"He was really cool, really nice, really humble," Vincent added.
Associated Press writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report.