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President to visit Panhandle

August 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

HEDGESVILLE, W.VA. - President Bush's campaign rally in Hedgesville next week should show voters that Bush is committed to the people in this area and throughout the state, state Del. Walter Duke said Friday.

Bush plans to hold a rally at Hedgesville High School sometime next Tuesday. West Virginia Republican National Committee spokesperson Mary Diamond confirmed Bush's visit, but said she does not know what time Bush will speak.

Hedgesville High School Principal Don Dellinger said he and school officials have been in close contact with the Secret Service and White House administration, coordinating the rally.

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Students in the school's band and ROTC unit hopefully will be involved, Dellinger said.

"This is just a really big event for the school and the community, and we're really excited," Dellinger said. "It's not very often that you get to be a part of the national stage such as this."

Although the school's playing field now is a bit muddy, Berkeley County Schools spokesperson Jaimee Borger said people in the school system will not have to worry about that.

"We've been guaranteed that things like that will be handled by people other than ourselves," Borger said. "They are handling the facilities. We're just giving them access."

While excited about Bush's visit, Dellinger said Hedgesville High School would open its doors should another presidential candidate also want to visit.

"Certainly, we would be bipartisan and host Sen. (John) Kerry," he said.

Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said that he has met with officials from the Secret Service three times.

Police agencies that will help cover the visit include West Virginia State Police, Martinsburg Police Department and deputies from the sheriff's departments in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, Smith said.

Duke, R-Berkeley, who is just finishing his first term as a state delegate, said he believes Bush will be warmly welcomed since many Eastern Panhandle residents are Republicans and are social and fiscal conservatives.

"I think this is far more friendly country to Bush than it is to Kerry, based on the values of our community and based on past election results," Duke said.

He said that a presidential visit here is important, given that Berkeley County is the fastest-growing county in the state.

"I think it is critical for the president to visit the Eastern Panhandle," Duke said. "I figured it was only a matter of time before he would be here."

Although he is not certain he'll be given the opportunity, Duke said he would welcome the chance to meet the president.

"Who wouldn't?" he said.

Duke said he would tell the president that he has been in his thoughts and prayers. He also would say something to "buck him up" from the tremendous onslaught he's been getting from the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the Web site www.moveon.org.

It seems the effort to unseat Bush has become a personal vendetta, not an argument based on the president's record over the last four years, Duke said.

Duke said he would take Bush's four years of service over Kerry's promises any day.

"We certainly have made tremendous strides," he said.

John Fink, chairman of the Berkeley County Democratic Executive Committee, said Bush's visit increases the chances of a visit from Kerry, although he said he is too low on the "pecking order" to have heard anything definitive.

"Just based on the track record, if you look elsewhere in West Virginia, one or the other has followed up," Fink said. "We expected him any time now. This may expedite it."

Fink said he has heard from some local Democrats who plan to attend the rally. He has encouraged them to cheer for Kerry rather than jeer Bush.

"We want to handle his visit with respect," Fink said.

"If you do do that," Fink advised Democrats, "go out and show some class."

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