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4,500 throng to see Cheney

The Republican nominee for vice president visits Weeki Wachee Spring with Jeb Bush and Norman Schwarzkopf.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2000


WEEKI WACHEE -- The city's population of 15 swelled to about 300 times its normal size Wednesday night and clogged traffic on U.S. 19 when Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney came to town as part of a last-minute effort to get out the vote in Florida.

Sounding a familiar theme of returning honor and integrity to the White House, Cheney drew frenzied applause from the crowd, listed unofficially at 4,500, that gathered at Weeki Wachee Spring, an attraction known for its underwater mermaid shows.

Country artists the Bellamy Brothers warmed up the crowd as the sun set with hits such as If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me. Brooke Bennett, Olympic gold medalist, swimmer and first-time voter, urged those attending to make a decision to back Bush.

"Next Tuesday we make the big one and make the right one," she said.

Cheney criticized Democratic nominee Al Gore as an inside-the-Beltway politician who stands for big government and high taxes. Cheney predicted a win for his running mate, George W. Bush, in Florida and in Tennessee, which he called Gore's back yard. "We're going to carry Tennessee and Florida, too," Cheney said, to cheers.

Acknowledging a group of veterans in the crowd, the former secretary of defense pledged to focus on military readiness if elected.

"This administration has not done an effective job of looking after our men and women in uniform," he said. "George Bush and I want to change that."

At one point, Cheney joined in when he was interrupted by the crowd's rhythmic "No more Gore" chant.

Gov. Jeb Bush and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a Pasco County resident, joined Cheney on stage in an outdoor amphitheater at the attraction.

Jeb Bush drew loud applause when he praised his brother as a consensus builder who would be able to make progress on such issues as Social Security and Medicare reform, middle-class tax cuts, foreign affairs and military policy.

"My brother is not a talker," Bush said. "He's a doer."

As for Vice President Gore, Bush criticized him and President Clinton for not getting the job done on those issues.

"They had their chance," he said. "They did not lead. Now it's time for them to go."

Bush also drew cheers when he praised his brother's integrity.

"Don't let anybody tell you in these last five days that character doesn't matter in office, because character matters in life," he said.

Schwarzkopf criticized Democrats for trying to scare seniors into the voting booth by telling them that a Bush administration would cut their benefits.

"I've watched enough of these scary ads on TV," he said. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."

Schwarzkopf said Democrats are waging a "campaign of fear against senior Americans."

"It's a damn lie," he said, asking for the crowd's help in the "war" to help Bush become president. "We need a counterattack of the truth, that's what we need."

Marilyn Carr, who lives in the Spring Hill retirement community of Timber Pines, was one of those at the rally who needed no convincing.

"This is really one of the biggest elections as far as which way the country will go," she said, adding that she appreciated Cheney for visiting such a rural area. "I think it's wonderful that he realizes that we're as important as everyone else."

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