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Vice president visits

February 28, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

More than 700 people packed the Four Points Sheraton ballroom Friday to listen to Vice President Dick Cheney, who made an appearance on behalf of U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett's re-election campaign.

Bartlett, R-Md., proclaimed it the single largest political event in the history of Western Maryland, with guests contributing more than $200,000 to the six-term congressman's re-election campaign.

Supporters began arriving at the Dual Highway hotel more than two hours before the vice president's 9:30 a.m. speech. Parking was at such a premium that vehicles were directed to a grassy area behind an office building next door.

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Heavy security surrounded the event.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said about 60 local police officers supported an undisclosed number of Secret Service agents. A helicopter patrolled the skies.

People lined up nearly the length of the hotel while waiting to go through a metal detector in the lobby.

"I came mainly for the circus atmosphere," Hagerstown businessman Anthony Dahbura joked as he waited.

Hagerstown has a long history of presidential visits, beginning with George Washington and continuing through President Bush's fairly frequent fly-ins at Hagerstown Regional Airport on his way to Camp David, Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner said.

But Friday's event, being an official stop, was unique.

"It's exciting. We're a small town. We're not used to this stuff," said Howard "Blackie" Bowen, one of the event's sponsors.

After Air Force Two landed at Hagerstown Regional Airport on Friday morning, Cheney was greeted by Breichner and his wife, Gann, along with Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

A motorcade took Cheney directly from the airport tarmac to the hotel, where St. Mary's School children had made a large and colorful sign saying, "Welcome to Hagerstown Mr. Cheney."

Cheney arrived through the hotel's easternmost entrance, which was cleared of people and heavily guarded by security.

In the ballroom, organizers had set up a stage in front of a blue velvet curtain.

About 150 guests who had contributed at least $1,000 got to have their photo taken with the vice president behind the curtain before his 10-minute speech.

Others paid $100 for the privilege of attending the breakfast, which was served buffet-style on tables in the hallway outside the ballroom.

The standing-room-only crowd hushed when Cheney walked on stage with Bartlett and his wife, Ellen.

"I bring good wishes to Hagerstown from the President of the United States," Cheney said to a round of applause.

Guests said they were impressed by the speech.

"Obviously, everybody in the crowd here agrees with him. The Republicans are moving the country in the right direction," said Steve Brown of Eldersburg, Md.

James Wesolek, 17, of Frederick, Md., will be voting for the first time Tuesday. He's allowed to vote in the primary because he's turning 18 before the general election in November.

"I'm waking up at 6:30 so I can be the first one at my polling place," he said.

After the speech, Cheney hopped back on a plane and flew to Latrobe, Pa., to stump for U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.

A dozen or more Democrats made their presence known by gathering along Dual Highway with signs backing John Kerry for president.

Bartlett scored the Cheney appearance in part because he has a challenger in Tuesday's primary, spokeswoman Sallie Taylor said.

Taylor said she is "cautiously optimistic" that Bartlett will beat Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle in the Republican primary.

Rolle pointed out that Bartlett has opposed a number of President Bush's initiatives, including the No Child Left Behind Act and money for rebuilding Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion.

Cheney said Bartlett is regarded as a "smart, independent and effective member of Congress."

"You put a good man in a big job and he has earned another term in the United States Congress," Cheney told the crowd.

Bartlett works hard and stays in touch with the people of his district, Cheney said.

As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, Bartlett plays an important role in homeland security issues, he said.

Seven Democrats are vying for the right to run against the winner of the Bartlett-Rolle showdown.

They are James Daniel Benson of Myersville, Md., Kenneth T. Bosley of Sparks, Md., Rodney D. Fox of Frederick, Richard Nacewicz of Eldersburg, Robert J. Rhudy of Frederick, Kevin M. Shaffer of LaVale, Md., and Ty Unglebower of Knoxville, Md.

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