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Backers cheer for Bush while opponents knock on doors

Jeff Martin, left, with Hillary Hopewelly and Chase Perrin, both seniors at GU, watch at David's Pizza as President Bush announces his bid for re-election on Thursday evening. 
 (Kathryn Stevens / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeff Martin, left, with Hillary Hopewelly and Chase Perrin, both seniors at GU, watch at David's Pizza as President Bush announces his bid for re-election on Thursday evening. (Kathryn Stevens / The Spokesman-Review)

As George W. Bush accepted his nomination and capped off the convention, Spokane-area supporters gathered to watch his speech and local opponents fanned out across the city to urge union members to help defeat him.

Some 60 Republicans, mostly college students, viewed the speech at David’s Pizza and cheered enthusiastically along with GOP delegates in New York, chanting “Four More Years!” and “Viva Bush!”

The event was sponsored by the College Republicans from nearby Gonzaga University. While the students seemed impressed with most of his thoughts, they cheered loudest for tax relief, ending frivolous lawsuits, protecting the unborn and defending the United States against terrorism.

“He combined nice one-liners with deep thoughts that cut right through the heart of the issues to the hearts of Americans everywhere,” said Tex Lawhon, a sophomore from San Francisco.

Peter Oven, a freshman from Oceanside, Calif., said he was impressed with the address, even though he was disappointed that Bush didn’t speak more about abortion. “It just seemed like he had a really clear vision,” Oven said

While Republicans were building toward the convention’s conclusion, about two dozen activists participated in Labor to Neighbor, a program that sent them to other union members’ doorsteps with campaign literature against Bush and for Democrats like legislative candidate Laurie Dolan.

Gary McKinney, a former Kaiser machinist who was laid off in 2000 from the Mead smelter, and Beth Thew of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, drew a precinct in northeast Spokane and headed up Hamilton, noting Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers on the way.

McKinney said he has been knocking on doors for John Kerry and other Democratic hopefuls on evenings and weekends for several months. As a Vietnam veteran, McKinney said he’s angry at the way Bush has handled the Iraq War and veterans issues.

“He can land on an aircraft carrier, pat everybody on the back and tell them what a good job they’ve done … then try to take away three VA hospitals in Washington state,” said McKinney.

Thew, whose husband is a veteran and one son is a Marine, is angry at the people who are questioning Kerry’s service and commendations.

“It put into question all of the veterans’ medals,” she said. “It cheapened all of them.”

Even at David’s Pizza, the war in Iraq was causing at least one Republican to question whether he would vote for Bush.

Dustin Duvanich, a Gonzaga senior and Marine Reservist, said he respects Kerry’s military record and is interested in learning more about him.

Duvanich, a lifelong Republican, said Iraq is a huge issue among people his age.

“I believe the American public was deceived a bit,” Duvanich said. “You really see how politics affects you when your friends are over there, your brother is over there and you could be over there,” he said.

While Duvanich wavered, Lawhon, who was sitting at the same table, suggested the GOP shouldn’t be trying to poke holes in Kerry’s military record. There are better ways to hurt him with voters, he said.

“We should be focusing on his voting record, which has more holes than Swiss cheese,” he said.

Lawhon has enjoyed this year’s Republican convention, which has given moderates in the party many prominent roles – a strategy that he believes will help in November.

“It worked in the last election, it worked in the Contract with America and it will work again,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Bush opponents continued to knock on doors and hand out literature. It’s a standard campaign tactic, but Labor to Neighbor is more focused than walking down a street and leaving a handbill for every voter on the block. The crews went only to homes on lists of current or former union members supplied by participating labor organizations.

It can have more impact than television commercials and yard signs, said Thew, and has been so successful that other political groups are copying it.

But the lists didn’t guarantee that they encountered only like-minded voters.

In the Knightsbridge Apartments, retired operating engineer Joe Reno cut Thew and McKinney off in mid-sentence and told them flat out he was voting for Bush. He thought the president was doing a good job and was suspicious of Kerry, although he didn’t care much for the quibbling over his voting record. In fact, he was tired of both parties tearing each other down.

“I vote for the man, not the party,” said Reno, adding he was steamed about the state’s new primary that forced him to choose one party’s ballot.

Rather than argue over Bush, Thew and McKinney commiserated on the primary and switched to their mantra of jobs, health care and education. They threw in a plug for Dolan, who’s running for the state Senate in that district, and for Democratic congressional candidate Don Barbieri.

McKinney and Thew found a more sympathetic audience in Marlene Dupree, a retired grocery worker who had already made up her mind to vote for Kerry. While jobs and health care are important to her, Dupree said the main reason she wouldn’t vote for the president is the war.

“I can hardly watch TV or pick up the paper, it makes me so upset,” she said of the reports of fighting and scenes of destruction from Iraq.

Dupree also rejects the idea that people who oppose the war don’t support the troops. She said it’s possible to do both, and she’s backing candidates who will “get us out of this war and get our boys home.”