Posted: Nov. 10, 2003
AFTER "ABCs" COMES "D" FOR DOLLARS
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
It looked like a lockdown -- brawny police
dogs with K-9 and SWAT officers from the Wilmington Police
Department in the halls of the Shortlidge Elementary School and an
announcement piped through the speaking system, "Please keep all
students in the classroom."
The forces of law and order were arrayed
against the danger that someone unauthorized might catch a glimpse
of Laura Bush.
The first lady spent part of Monday in
Delaware at two closely controlled events -- the first at the school
overlooking the Brandywine and the second at a contributors'
luncheon for Bush-Cheney '04 at the Westover Hills home of MBNA
President Charles M. Cawley.
The first event was focused on early reading,
the second on early money.
The public was excluded from the school. The
press and public were excluded from the lunch -- except for about
100 invited guests with $2,000 to spend on the re-election of the
Republican State Chairman Terry A. Strine, who
attended the lunch, said Laura Bush was there for almost two hours,
gave a short talk and met individually with everyone. "She is warm
and friendly and engaging, just like the lady next door," he said.
Cawley is what is known as a Ranger, someone
who is collecting at least $200,000 in campaign contributions for
the Bush-Cheney operation. The Delaware finance chairman for the
presidential ticket is Lance L. Weaver, who works with Cawley as
MBNA's executive vice chairman.
George W. Bush did not carry Delaware in 2000,
when the state gave 55 percent of the popular vote and its three
electoral votes to Democrat Albert Gore Jr. It was the first time
since 1948 the electorate here did not vote for the candidate who
went to the White House, although it did vote for the candidate who
won the most votes nationwide.
U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, who is the state
chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, was optimistic that Delaware
would go into the Republican column in 2004 even as he noted its
status as a "swing" state, neither reliably Republican red nor
Democratic blue. He predicted that events like these with the first
lady -- which he attended -- would help.
"We're a purple state, I guess. It's never
easy in Delaware, we always know that," Castle said. "There's a
reasonable expectation that he [Bush] would win."
At the school, it was show-and-tell. The White
House would show so the press could tell. Bush spent 11 minutes
reading to 14 students in the second-grade classroom of Janna Kane,
the children wiggling into place on a colorful rug with an alphabet
pattern as the first lady sat on a chair. She read from a book
called It's Fall.
Except for the six television cameras and
phalanx of reporters hemming them in, it seemed to be a precious
time, the first lady who used to be a teacher herself and the
children, without a hint of the guns and badges in the hallway
After Bush left the classroom, she devoted
another 10 minutes to a press conference, which was observed by
Castle and a pair of Wilmington Democrats, Mayor James M. Baker and
Council President Theodore Blunt, along with some officials from the
Red Clay Consolidated School District.
She talked about the importance of reading and
appeared to go out of her way not to cause any ripples. In the
classroom a child had asked her what was hard about being the first
lady, and she had said there were only good parts, except that
dealing with the press might be the hardest part. Now she wanted to
"That was only a joke," she said.
Afterwards Castle said the press conference
showed what an asset Bush is. "She is a wonderful presence," he
said. "A Laura Bush always puts a softer side to politics. You can
see instinctively she is not that political a person."
Castle acknowledged, however, that Delaware
might not have caught sight of the soft presence at the school
without the hard dollars at the lunch. "I would hope so, but I don't
know," he said.
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