Full house greets Bush brothers
By ANGELA MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000
TAMPA -- The bumper stickers plastered on a white Dodge Caravan in the parking lot of the Florida State Fairgrounds Wednesday night said it all:
Bush -- Cheney 2000; McCollum for Senate; Putnam for Congress; Jeb! (a leftover from two years ago); Save Florida. Send Bill Nelson Back to Space.
Not exactly a bipartisan exchange of ideas. But then, one doesn't go to a pep rally at Florida State wearing a Gators T-shirt, either.
As the bumper stickers on thousands of other cars at the fairgrounds attested, most people who came to hear the sons of former President George Bush -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- already knew what team they are playing for.
Which is why, with the capacity crowd chanting "We want Bush! We want Bush!" fervently and shaking red, white and blue pompoms, Ann and Rick Hartnett felt a little lonely.
Just above Ann's heart, she wore a button with a picture of the man she's voting for, Vice President Al Gore. Her husband wore one of the Bush-Cheney 2000 stickers handed out, but confessed that the couple came to the rally because he's still trying to decide who to vote for.
"But don't tell anybody," he said.
The Hartnetts said they also didn't want to pass up the opportunity to see George W. Bush.
They had a long time to wait.
People started lining up outside the exhibition hall early in the afternoon, organizers said. At 6 p.m., a long line snaked around the parking lot, consisting mainly of people who weren't going to fit inside. At 6:15, organizers swung open the doors of the hall for a few hundred people to muscle their way inside, only to find that all the seats were already taken. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they waited and cheered.
They cheered as a gospel singer sang the national anthem against the backdrop of a gargantuan American flag. They cheered as other Republican candidates spoke about "restoring honor and dignity to the White House." They cheered especially loud when Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder, both Democrats, got on stage and announced that they were voting for Bush.
They cheered when another Democrat, Florida's secretary of agriculture, Bob Crawford, announced he was doing the same. They cheered along with cheerleaders from Lakeland Christian School, who composed a special GOP cheer for the occasion. And they waited. A white-haired older woman danced in her wheelchair and shook a pompom to deafeningly loud dance music like Fatboy Slim's Rockafeller Skank and Queen's We Will Rock You.
Finally, at 7 p.m., to the strains of Van Halen's Right Now, the Bush brothers took the stage.
After a few minutes, the excitement was too much for 5-month-old Ryan Johnson and his parents, 30-year-olds Lori and Kerry Johnson of St. Petersburg. They stood just outside while George W. Bush gave his stump speech and explained why they were voting for Bush.
"We're pro-life, pro-family, and Bush seems really honest and able to get things done," Lori Johnson said.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire