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The Presidential Campaign

Protesters shadow Bush at fundraiser

The president displays his warm side at the St. Petersburg dinner event. Outside, protesters are hot.

Published October 23, 2004

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Above: Laura Bush, with President Bush in the background, greets supporters Friday at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

At left: Protester Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., holds a sign with a photo of her son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in combat in Iraq on April 4.
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TODAY: Hip Hop Summit Action Network Bus Tour 2 p.m., Tropicana Stadium Parking Lot, 1 Tropicana Drive. Headliners will include rap artists Akon and Styllion; ESPN sportscaster and former New York Jet Walter Briggs; Tampa Bay Bucs player Ellis Wyms; and Southern Style rappers Evening Riders, Ace Boon Koon, Black Jack Boys, Kream, and LK & Tom G. Shuttles will transport young voters to early voting locations until 5 p.m. Call 866-0873.

TUESDAY: Meg Ryan and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 6 p.m. , Tampa Theater, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. A discussion on President Bush's environmental policies. Free. Call 595-7314.

WEDNESDAY: Parent Forum on the Pinellas County School Referendum Ballot Question 7 p.m., McMullen-Booth Elementary School, 3025 Union St., Clearwater. Call (813) 884-3782.

ST. PETERSBURG - Inside the waterfront mansion on Brightwaters Boulevard, President Bush talked about his life experiences as guests dined on steak and salmon.

Outside, about 75 protesters angrily denounced Bush's policies, blamed him for the Iraq war and held up signs that said, "Fire the Liar" and "Bush policies violate Jesus' teachings." One woman was arrested.

The 2004 presidential race came to Snell Isle on Friday as Bush made his second trip in a week to St. Petersburg.

In contrast to his trip earlier this week, in which Bush stumped to a crowd of thousands, Friday's visit allowed the president and first lady Laura Bush to mingle with select guests who contributed up to $25,000 each for a Republican Party fundraiser.

The event at the home of investor Jim MacDougald was expected to raise $1-million for a combined Republican effort called Victory 2004.

The visit was another reminder of Florida's key role in the 2004 presidential election, four years after the state decided the presidency. In another sign of this region's importance, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards is scheduled to appear at noon today at a rally at Straub Park in St. Petersburg.

At Friday's fundraiser, Bush "showed tremendous warmth and caring," said Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher. "He talked about what it was like being on the job, the oval office, what it's like working there. He was truly energized, he talked as a person, not as a president."

Candy DeBartolo, who attended the event, said she enjoyed hearing Bush speak about his relationship with his wife, Laura.

"As a woman it was nice to hear that," DeBartolo said. "He spoke from his heart tonight."

Rick Michaels, co-chairman of the Republican Regents with the Republican National Committee, sat next to the president during the dinner.

Michaels said Bush spoke about the challenges and difficulties he's faced since taking office four years ago. The conversation stayed positive, he said.

"He said it's easy when you think about being president and you're sitting in Texas, but it's a lot harder when you are actually there," Michaels said. "He was positive, I didn't hear him say one negative thing about (Democratic rival John) Kerry the entire time."

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said the dinner inspired him.

"The president delivered an impassioned message about the security and the freedom of our country," Crist said.

Bush's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, also attended.

The fundraiser was not for the presidential campaign per se, but for the "Victory 2004" campaign of the Republican National Committee.

"It's ticketwide effort to get out the vote in order to elect Republicans from the statehouse to the White House," said RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Taylor.

Protesters were on hand for Bush's arrival in St. Petersburg, and for his exit.

After the presidential motorcade traveled to MacDougald's home, some protesters moved from the Snell Isle bridge to a location closer to the fundraiser.

One of them, Amanda Blake, a biology major at Eckerd College, was arrested on charge of obstructing a police officer.

St. Petersburg police said she was among a group of protesters gathered near Cordova Boulevard. Officers asked them to move to a designated spot. Everyone did except Blake, according to police, who said she was arrested after failing to respond to 10 to 12 requests to move.

Friends, however, said she merely was trying to find a place to stand. As Blake sat in the back of a police van, protesters shouted, "Let her go."

Also among the protesters was Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, 24, was killed in Iraq when his convoy was ambushed.

She held up a sign, "Bush lied my baby died" with a large picture of her son in uniform. She tried unsuccessfully to crash the fundraiser with a fellow demonstrator.

Using her son's life insurance money, Sheehan, a California native, has traveled around the country protesting Bush and the war. She also has appeared in anti-Bush television ads.

"The pain just grows every day, it doesn't get any better, especially with new reports that Iraq wasn't connected with Sept. 11," Sheehan said through tears. "What angers me is that the president uses their sense of duty and their sense of loyalty to their buddies and exploits it."

Bush arrived in Pinellas County at about 5:20 p.m. Friday as Air Force One touched down at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. Bush, in a dark suit and red tie, and Laura Bush, wearing an aqua dress, got off the plane and headed straight for Chip Collins, 69, a volunteer with the Clearwater Police Department.

Bush thanked Collins for patroling city parks, and "then he asked me if I liked his plane," said Collins, whose name was submitted by Clearwater police as a possible greeter. Wearing his uniform of a white shirt and blue pants, Collins posed for a picture with the president and told him: "I'm with you all the way."

The president is expected to campaign today in Lakeland, Fort Myers, Melbourne and Jacksonville.

[Last modified October 23, 2004, 01:13:23]

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