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GOP brings a party to stadium


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 6, 2000

TAMPA -- With Raymond James Stadium in the background, thousands of people chanted slogans, waved signs, screamed wildly and danced to blaring music Sunday night.

But they weren't rooting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Presidential candidate George W. Bush revved up thousands at a campaign rally Sunday that was as energetic as any football game. Even Hank Williams Jr., who sings the theme song for ABC's Monday Night Football, performed on stage in a 10-gallon cowboy hat.

"Are you ready for a big win!" he screamed, as thousands of people roared. "I've got to get ready! I've got to get right! Our next president is coming over tonight!"

Bush, his sleeves rolled up, took in the enthusiasm as he looked over the crowd, blanketed with waving American flags and children hoisted on parents' shoulders.

"This is a huge crowd!" Bush said. "Which leads me to be able to say Florida is going to be Bush-Cheney country!"

He teased the Democrats for not knowing how to party, referring to Vice President Al Gore's visit to downtown Tampa last week with singer Jimmy Buffett.

"They don't know how to throw a rally," Bush said.

Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, cheered so much Sunday that he sounded hoarse.

On stage, there was plenty of star power to back Bush up: retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, entertainer Wayne Newton and actor Bo Derek.

"In the final analysis, we need one person who can bring us together, and I know for sure it's not Al Gore," Newton said. "You have heard him say, "I am going to fight for you. I am going to fight for you.'

"When?" Newton asked mockingly. "When does it start?"

Derek urged the crowd to convert as many voters as possible. "I have convinced many in Hollywood, so you have no excuse," she said.

Hundreds of people began lining up in the Raymond James Stadium parking lot 4 1/2 hours before Bush appeared about 7 p.m. Tampa police estimated about 15,000 people attended, according to the Bush campaign.

"We are so tired of the lack of integrity from the White House," said Connie Gerbasi, 38, of Plant City, who wore a T-shirt that said "Luvya Dubya."

After the rally, fireworks exploded overhead and recorded music by Latin singer Ricky Martin filled the night.

As she left, Donna Godwin, 46, turned back to look at the scene as her husband rubbed her back. She looked mesmerized by the fireworks booming over the stadium.

"I think he's a plain-spoken person," she said of Bush. "It's really refreshing."

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