Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Preaching to the Choir

SANTA FE – “I love this crowd,” private citizen Dick Cheney said as he enthused about the spirited response to his soft-spoken speech.
It isn’t clear whether Cheney knew his crowd had been screened and sanitized to assure it was 100 percent supportive of the Bush/Cheney ticket. National GOP officials say limiting crowds solely to supporters is not a national policy, so unless Cheney was told the reason for his overly-enthusiastic audience, he may have thought it was just because he was doing such a great job.
Bernalillo County Sheriff and Bush/Cheney Chairman Darrin White didn’t want a repeat of the disruptions caused by Republicans at a Kerry campaign event a few weeks earlier, so he required all those who weren’t known supporters to sign a loyalty oath pledging support for the Bush/Cheney ticket and authorizing their names and pictures to be used in campaign ads, before receiving tickets to the event.
Democrats got in their licks at the successful action to cleanse the crowd. They noted that their candidate not only had not screened out hecklers, but had defended their right to free speech. They also pointed out that Cheney was a public official speaking at a public meeting in a public building. Republicans countered that he was appearing merely as a candidate, not as the vice president.
That’s good, because it means that the Bush/Cheney campaign was paying for his trip out here, not taxpayers. Usually when something like that happens, supporters are quick to point it out, but oddly, it wasn’t used as a defense in this case.
Democrats didn’t have completely clean hands for their righteous indignation, however. At the Democratic National Convention in Boston, protesters were isolated in a “free speech cage” well away from the convention hall.
At the end of this month, Republicans will have their chance to demonstrate whether they have found a better way to limit disruption while respecting free speech. Meanwhile, we’ll see how President Bush’s Q&A session in New Mexico goes tonight.
There is no doubt that New Mexico still is in the crosshairs of both parties as the campaign moves into its final three months. Often by this time, candidates have forgotten New Mexico as they race from one coast to the other, hitting the population centers.
But with the slim 366-vote margin we gave Democrat Al Gore four years ago, party strategists know we can go either way. And with the candidates running so closely, our five electoral votes could tilt the balance. Besides Republicans know Gore’s victory might have disappeared had there been time for a total statewide recount of votes.
The Kerry/Edwards ticket was in New Mexico, partially recreating former President Harry Truman’s famous whistle-stop campaign of 1948. On that trip, Truman made it to southern New Mexico also. Gov. Bill Richardson also has used campaign train trips twice in the past. Once in support of Gov. Bruce King’s gubernatorial candidacy in 1990 and once for his own campaign in 2002.
Santa Feans, accustomed to being in the middle of everything political, have had to drive to the Las Vegas, NM railroad station for whistle-stop rallies over the years because their city was bypassed by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.
Back in the 1880s, the notorious Santa Fe Ring, composed of crooked businessmen, lawyers and politicians, calculated that the railroad couldn’t avoid coming through its namesake town. But they figured wrong. They set such a high price for land the railroad needed that the company decided that not only would it be cheaper, it also would be easier not to have to figure how to negotiate La Bajada Hill between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Santa Fe wasn’t the only community to make that mistake. White Oaks, NM also gambled and lost its bet that the railroad would have to go through the bustling town that produced our state’s first governor, William C. McDonald. The railroad went through Carrizozo instead.


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