As Republican challenger Mitt Romney heads off on a foreign trip that seems conspicuously timed to coincide with the anniversary of U.S. President Barack Obama's now famous 2008 Berlin speech, it's easy to forget just how odd it seemed just four years ago for a candidate to fly abroad in the middle of campaign season.
The Washington press corps was incredulous when Obama, then a senator with just two years under his belt announced his trip, which included stops in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, France, and Britain as well as the July 24 speech before a crowd of more than 200,000 in the German capital -- essentially a campaign rally on foreign soil.
"Since when do American candidates, particularly candidates who are not incumbents, actually conduct their campaigns abroad? No one I've talked to can think of a real precedent," wrote the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum at the time. Obama was forced to give up on his original choice of venue, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided that the site of historic presidential addresses by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan was an "inappropriate" backdrop for a political speech by a candidate.
Obama's opponent Sen. John McCain also went on the offensive, telling CNN that he would prefer to give speeches to audiences in Europe "as president of the United States, rather than as a candidate for the office of presidency" and would instead spend his time "campaigning across the heartland of America and talking about the issues that are challenging America today." Clips of Obama speaking before crowds of admiring Germans would later be prominently featured in the McCain campaign's famous "celebrity" ad.
McCain would himself take a tour of Latin America several weeks later, but the senator's aides stressed that it was intended to highlight his positions on trade and democracy promotion in the region rather than simply burnishing his foreign-policy credentials. McCain had already visited Israel as the presumptive GOP nominee in March 2008.
This time around, the Obama team is certainly using the Republican candidate's trip as an opportunity to attack Romney's foreign policy, but the trip itself no longer seems like such an unusual undertaking. "Overseas trips by candidates have almost become an expected part of the ‘I can be president‘ process," writes Michael Shear of the New York Times. ABC News has headlined a story about the tour, "Mitt Romney Embarks on First Foreign Trip of His Candidacy" as if it the odd thing was that it took him so long.