Early risers get to see Bush
By RYAN DAVIS
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000
NEW PORT RICHEY -- The last time John McGinty saw a presidential nominee was in 1960 in Boston.
For one thing, he's now a Republican.
"When you grow older, you learn a little," the former Democrat joked. "No, really, it's about the size of the government."
And Saturday morning at Pasco-Hernando Community College, the most pressing issue for McGinty was the size of the line of people hoping to see Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush; his wife, Laura Bush; and brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
McGinty and his wife, Maria, both ardent Bush supporters, made it in the door. They were two of about 1,200 people who surrounded the Bushes on seats inside Pasco-Hernando Community College's West Campus Physical Fitness Center.
Republican officials touted it as the first time a major party presidential nominee had visited Pasco County. Dan Quayle visited Sims Park in New Port Richey for a rally eight years ago as the vice presidential nominee.
The Texas governor brought energy into the early rising crowd during his 35-minute speech and 25-minute question-and-answer session, announcing no new policy but sticking to the often familiar rhetoric that drew frequent applause.
About 1,100 people weren't as lucky as the McGintys. They were shut out of the gymnasium. Nearly 600 of them gathered in the campus Performing Arts Center to watch Bush on television, and about 500 went home with little more than a glimpse of the Bush brothers, campaign officials said.
This wasn't like the focus groups that national networks had gathered recently in the Tampa Bay area. These weren't swing voters. They want Bush and they arrived before sunrise to see him.
Twin 5-year-olds Jesse and Athena Aldrich-Ames napped on the grass outside the gymnasium, lying atop four-legged pillows, one a lion and the other a pig.
Chris Walsh, 18, his two brothers and a friend, all from Dunnellon, got out of bed at 3 a.m. to arrive outside the gym at 5:40 a.m.
"We were excited he was coming to our area," said Walsh, who was wearing a blue Bush collared shirt. "It was close enough."
The protesters arrived a little later. Shortly after 7 a.m. Socialist Party supporter Steve Sears, 35, of Fort Myers, was searching for fellow protesters.
"I can't find them," he said. "Some Ralph Nader people, that's all I've seen so far."
Eventually about 100 protesting farm workers from as far away as Immokalee gathered at the Ridge Road entrance to the school, pleading for attention from Jeb Bush. They said proposed legislation will virtually make them slaves, and one carried a fake steel ball and chain to illustrate the point.
They also chanted "No more Bushes" as traffic plodded off the campus at the end of the event.
No one was arrested, but Pasco County sheriff's deputies closed the entrance of the school to anyone except PHCC students attending class, Major Darlene Greene said.
"We had protesters out there that were begining to get a little rowdy," Greene said.
Those opposing the Buccaneer gas pipeline proposed to run through Pasco County also protested, but drew far less attention. Lacking an audience, they posed for group pictures with other protesters from Abbey Rehabilitation Center, a St. Petersburg nursing home that had its state contract canceled, and others wanting Medicare reform.
"We are secluded and relegated to a remote area of the parking lot where nothing is going on," pipeline protester Robert Selby said.
Inside the gymnasium, Bush, who was talking about oil pipelines in Alaska, unwittingly and indirectly touched on the Pasco County issue.
"Seems to me," he said, "we ought to parallel that pipeline with additional natural gas pipelines to keep the supply up."
-- Ryan Davis can be reached at (800) 333-7505 ext. 3452 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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