Dam Rally Pumps GOPby Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, November 4, 2000
It didn't take long for the crowd of 1,200 to get over any disappointment that no "high-level national figure" from the George W. Bush campaign showed at the dam and water rights rally Friday night in Pasco.
Sen. Slade Gorton made it up to them when he announced late in the two-hour event that Bush running mate Dick Cheney will visit the Tri-Cities Monday, on the eve of the closest presidential election in 40 years. Details of the event have not been worked out, but it is believed Cheney will appear in the late afternoon or early evening in Pasco.
The visit underscores how critical votes throughout the Mid-Columbia are perceived. Party leaders are convinced Washington's 11 electoral votes, normally not heavily fought for compared to those in larger states, could make the difference in a close election. And polls are showing Bush running in a dead heat with Gore in Washington.
By strengthening their stronghold in the pro-Bush Mid-Columbia, Republicans believe there are enough votes to squeeze out a win.
"You are going to see to it that George W. Bush is the next president of the United States," Gorton declared.
The rest of the event had the feel of a convention rather than a rally, right down to the Lee Greenwood finale. A bevy of Republican candidates took the stage to partisan applause from a crowd that kept itself warm inside the chilly Trade, Recreation and Agricultural Center by waving signs. Enthusiasts, some of whom began filing in 90 minutes early, traded stickers and placards like baseball cards.
Mike Hewitt, who is challenging state Sen. Valoria Loveland, D-Pasco, for her seat, was happy to take center stage. He began organizing the event last month as a small gathering to try to boost his name in the Tri-Cities.
"I want to thank you for coming to my little backyard barbecue," Hewitt told the crowd. "Three weeks ago, that's exactly what it was."
Not surprisingly, the rhetoric from the speakers, which included U.S. Reps. George Nethercutt and Jennifer Dunn, gubernatorial candidate John Carlson and Idaho's Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Sen. Larry Craig, included plenty of cheerleading for dams. Gore, who has accepted the federal government's call to delay a decision on dam breaching for at least five years, was targeted frequently for not pulling it off the table.
"He gets elected," Nethercutt said of Gore, "and we're in trouble. Those dams are coming out."
In the meantime, twin video screens above the stage showed aerial video clips of Tri-City shorelines and miles of irrigated farmland.
More than anything, the rally was designed to mobilize activists and voters at the tail end of a campaign that features several close races. Not only is the presidential race tight, but Hewitt and Gorton are polling nearly even with their opponents.
"You've got to go out tomorrow on your Saturday, you've got to doorbell," said State Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane. "You've got to go out and do it Sunday after church."
Of all the candidates, the crowd got the most excited about the one who wasn't there -- Bush.
"Tell me, how does this sound?" asked state Rep. Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, ultimately drawing thundering applause from hundreds of backers on the floor and others stomping on bleachers in the back. "President George Bush."
"W stands for Washington," Dunn said, holding up three fingers. "We may very well be the 11 electoral votes that push our candidate over the line."
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