Slideshow: The Obamas on vacation

CHILMARK, Mass. (AP) — Martha’s Vineyard is barely an hour’s flight from Washington, but it felt worlds away as President Barack Obama and his family began their summer vacation Thursday amid the island’s beaches and quaint farmhouses.

Instead of politicians and polls, the Obamas encountered pony farms and ponds. Instead of filibusters, the Vineyard offers fishing. And the only things getting hung out to dry were beach towels.

Before escaping into all that, though, Obama had to dispatch one final duty at the White House. Underscoring the headaches he’s trying to escape, Thursday morning brought the latest batch of grim economic news — another rise in jobless claims.

That led Obama to fire a parting shot at the GOP before leaving town, accusing them of blocking a Senate vote on a small business aid package ahead of crucial midterm elections.

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“It’s obstruction that stands in the way of small business owners getting the loans and the tax cuts that they need to prosper,” the president said. “It’s obstruction that defies common sense.”

Then it was off with the suit and tie, onto Air Force One with first dog Bo, and away for a 10-day break. First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia traveled separately and were already waiting for Obama at Blue Heron Farm, the same multimillion-dollar property where they spent a part of last August.

After arriving at the Vineyard under sunny skies, Obama motorcaded to meet his family, finding plenty of sights along the way to distract him from Washington’s woes: Brown-shingled houses nestled among groves of trees, bike trails and fields, country antiques stores.

Crowds along the motorcade route smiled and waved, snapping photos from cars with kayaks strapped to the top. Only one dissenter was spotted: A woman in a floppy hat who gave the motorcade two thumbs down.

Obama’s summer trip will be his ninth vacation since taking office. By the time his trip to the Vineyard is complete, he’ll have spent 48 days on vacation as president, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News reporter the White House recognizes for his record-keeping.

Obama has been criticized for vacationing a second straight summer on this upscale resort island, especially when so many Americans are out of work. But aides said he’s earned the respite.

“It’s a comfortable place where he can rest and recharge the batteries a little bit,” Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One.

For Obama, the break comes after a punishing few days of cross-country campaigning and speechmaking. New poll numbers show most voters don’t like his handling of the economy and a significant number — 18 percent — believe, wrongly, that he’s Muslim. There’s also the broiling controversy over a proposed mosque near ground zero, which Obama elevated last week by saying Muslims have the right to build in New York, a position a number of fellow Democrats are avoiding.

Of course relaxation is all relative. A battery of aides is accompanying the president to Martha’s Vineyard, where he’ll continue to receive his daily intelligence and other briefings.

Then there’s the unexpected. Last summer while on Martha’s Vineyard, Obama nominated Ben Bernanke to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman to quiet speculation about the appointment. He also went to Boston to eulogize his friend and former colleague, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Obama is the third sitting president to spend time on Martha’s Vineyard. Bill Clinton vacationed there often, and long before that, so did Ulysses S. Grant.

Associated Press Writers Mark S. Smith in Vineyard Haven, Mass., and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.