WOODWARD, Okla. – When the middle-of-nowhere town of Woodward invited George W. Bush to its Fourth of July celebration, no one really expected the former president to accept. But he did.
Now this community of 12,000 is scurrying to get ready for what some locals are calling the biggest thing ever to happen to Woodward, a place where cattle outnumber people.
“To actually come to a small community like this, that shows his character,” said Kelle Robinson, co-owner of the Sweet Surprises store, which has been turning out U.S. flag cookies. “He’s not too good for the common people.”
Bush’s paid speaking engagement at Woodward’s Let Freedom Ring 2009 celebration will be his first Fourth of July since he left the Oval Office, and the latest in a series of small, under-the-radar events that he has dropped in on as ex-president.
The event’s promoter, 28-year-old Landon Laubhan, sent the invitation in April. “I was just inviting him as a person deeply in love with America sending an invitation to another person deeply in love with America,” he said.
At first, “I thought, ‘President Bush, July 4, no way is he even available,’ ” Laubhan said. “I almost asked for an off day in October or November, because I felt it would even be a stupid question to ask for the Fourth.”
The answer came back about two weeks later – absolutely, Bush would be there.
“You want to talk about a lot of mixed emotions at one time, there was extreme excitement and it was a scared feeling as well,” said Laubhan, who has mainly staged bull-riding events over the past few years. “You take a step back and say, ‘Oh, what did I get myself into?’ ”
Bush is scheduled to speak Saturday night for about 40 minutes at the two-day event, which will also feature country music acts such as Tanya Tucker and Asleep at the Wheel. Laubhan declined to say how much Bush is getting paid.
About 9,200 tickets have been sold.
Over the past five months, Bush has made about a half-dozen public appearances. He seems to especially enjoy rubbing elbows with regular folk. He paid a visit to a Dallas hardware store in February. Three days later, he dropped in on a political science class at Southern Methodist University.
Though Bush left office with a dismal 34 percent approval rating, he remains popular in Oklahoma. Bush carried 81 percent of the vote in Woodward in the 2004 elections.
“Maybe some young kids and old Democrats didn’t vote for him, but I think the rest of us did,” said Kris Day, who owns the Cowboy’s Tack Shop with her husband.
Seats for the speech range from $25 to $500 for the “Oval Office Ticket,” featuring first-row seating close to Bush, VIP parking and complimentary beverages.