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The Presidential Campaign

Campaigning with Leonardo DiCaprio

He wanted to talk about the environment in Tampa. His adoring fans had other ideas.

Published October 20, 2004

[Times photo: Kinfay Moroti]
Leonardo DiCaprio speaks Tuesday in support of John Kerry at Mis En Place restaurant in Tampa. His publicist promised that anyone bringing five women who vote early will get a Kerry campaign sign autographed by the star.
[Times photo: Willie Allen Jr.]
President Bush speaks at Sims Park in New Port Richey on Tuesday morning. He earlier had visited St. Petersburg's Progress Energy Park.

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TAMPA - Just before 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Leonardo DiCaprio burst into the men's restroom at Mise En Place restaurant in Tampa, looking disheveled.

He stared into the mirror and hastily slicked back his mop of brown hair. He tucked his blue L.A. Dodgers cap into a bag and slipped on a black, button-down shirt over his Kerry/Edwards T-shirt.

Fresh from a stop at the University of Central Florida - not to mention other stops in places like Oregon and Wisconsin - the 29-year-old movie star sighed as he talked of his recent nonstop travels.

"Shuffling around, man," he said.

Although he'd come to talk about the environment and, like many other celebrities, stump for John Kerry, DiCaprio knew exactly what awaited him down the hall.

Women. Swooning, adoring women.

Young, old. Blonds, brunettes, those with red hair, those with gray. Some wearing slinky dresses or skirts, some in tight blue jeans. A few sipping glasses of wine, others sipping Shirley Temples.

All of them had come, and most - at least the old enough to vote - came to the Women for Kerry event wearing stickers that said "I Early Voted" next to their campaign pins.

DiCaprio knew when he walked down the hall, the camera would flash at machine-gun speed, the cheers would reach fever pitch and a girl somewhere in toward the back would shout, "There he is!!!"

That's just how it happened.

The movie star smiled. But he had come to talk about more serious things than what was eating Gilbert Grape.

"I realize this is the most important election of my lifetime," he told the crowd of more than 75, most of them women, that had packed a softly lit back room. "Over the past four years, George Bush has made the wrong choices, disastrous choices, when it comes to the environment."

DiCaprio, who has donated to Kerry's campaign and has joined other celebrities in filming commercials that urge young people to vote, railed about Bush's record on global warming, toxic waste, offshore drilling and air and water pollution.

"It's time for a change," he told the partisan crowd. "It's time for new leadership. It's time to make sure we protect our environment. America can do better."

DiCaprio was joined Tuesday night by Carol Browner, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She, too, did not waste time in reprimanding the president.

"Take it from someone who knows a little something about the environment," she said. "The Bush administration - the worst ever. I cannot begin to imagine what four more years of this administration will mean to the environment."

The pair spoke for barely 15 minutes. DiCaprio stayed around a little longer to sign autographs, pose for pictures and hug smitten teenagers and grown women alike. Then he was whisked away into a minivan.

"He was hot!" said 12-year-old Sara Cavana of Tampa.

But Sara's mother, Christina Calhoun, put the evening in better perspective. She wanted her children to know that stars flicker and burn out, but presidents can affect every American's life.

"What happens in this election is going to affect them for decades. I thought it was important to be here."

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:17:24]

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