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Politics divide mother, daughter

The disagreement between actor Susan Sarandon and her mother makes national news and spurs an invitation to the White House for the 79-year-old Lakeland woman.

By MIKE BRASSFIELD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2003

It's been a strange few days for Lenora Tomalin, but it's been worth it. She's finally going to get inside the White House.

All the 79-year-old Lakeland grandmother had to do was publicly disagree with her famous daughter, actor Susan Sarandon, on the subjects of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

A convoluted chain of events this week has brought Tomalin a lot of unexpected attention, including a phone call from Gov. Jeb Bush.

While visiting one of her nine adult children in Washington, D.C., this past weekend, she was at a St. Patrick's Day dinner party also attended by TV media bigwigs such as Tim Russert and Chris Matthews.

Tomalin wowed her fellow partygoers by telling them that, unlike her daughter, she's a wholehearted conservative Republican supporter of the president. Sarandon, on the other hand, is a vocal critic of Bush and the war.

"Susan's a good kid. She's nice," Tomalin told the St. Petersburg Times. "But we don't agree politically on anything."

(Full disclosure: Another one of Tomalin's nine children is Times outdoors writer Terry Tomalin.)

Lenora Tomalin's appearance attracted the attention of a Washington Post society columnist who told Tomalin's tale in his newspaper column Tuesday. The column also mentioned that Tomalin was bitterly disappointed because she was unable to tour the White House decorations while visiting last Christmas.

Since then, Tomalin has been barraged with phone calls from countless talk radio hosts and TV stations. Bill O'Reilly mentioned her on his Fox News Channel show. By the time Inside Edition called her Lakeland home, Tomalin had stopped giving interviews.

Then the lifelong Republican got a surprise: Jeb Bush called, offering to arrange a White House tour on her next trip to Washington.

"Jeb said he'd make arrangements the next time I went up. He said, 'I'll make sure you get the VIP treatment,"' Tomalin said. "It was nice of him to take that kind of time."

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