Undaunted, Kerry Decides
by Joel Connelly, P-I Columnist
HOOD RIVER, Ore. --Tail winds that boosted John Kerry on a marathon, 22-state tour after the Democratic convention vanished suddenly Saturday just as the poor guy tried to take a day off.
Since he isn't that poor, the Democratic presidential nominee vowed to fly back from Idaho today or tomorrow. He really, really wants to get in some long overdue windsurfing in the Columbia Gorge.
Absent breezes on the river, Kerry on Saturday did something unheard of in this era of meticulously choreographed campaigning.
He went to the beach and hung out for a while in this small Oregon town, beautifully situated where the Columbia River bores through the Cascade Range.
"This is a first for us," said an elderly lady named Eleanor Page.
A guy on a sailboat blasted out "Hail to the Chief" on his trumpet. An old lady held up a sign reading "Bush Doesn't Jive" outside her weathered Airstream trailer.
"Most of these folks are 'board heads,' " joked a young man named Bob Wendler. Wendler is a Hood River regular and part of the recreation craze that has hit the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Kerry initially didn't sound like a senator. He takes winds and waves seriously and escapes politics by kite-surfing Nantucket Sound in home-state waters.
"Can you promise me wind on Monday or Tuesday?" he asked the crowd of locals attracted by the Coast Guard patrol boats.
Then came a reminder of a close presidential race, waged at close quarters: Kerry and President Bush crossed paths two weeks ago in Iowa, and again Friday in Portland.
"More important, can you promise me some votes in November?" asked the candidate, standing atop a concrete traffic partition.
Actually, they could. Hood River County was one of just eight Oregon counties -- and the only one east of the Cascades -- to vote for Al Gore in 2000.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign has signed up 250 volunteers.
In other democracies -- Canada and Britain, for instance -- election campaigns last little more than a month.
The United States works its candidates for nearly two years, seeming to use exhaustion as a way of probing for weakness.
As he spoke Friday to 45,000 people in Portland, his largest crowd of the campaign (though characterized on KIRO/7 in Seattle as "hundreds of his supporters"), Kerry's mind seemed to be wandering up the Columbia. Actually, he started talking about windsurfing the Gorge during a Seattle stop two years ago.
"One of the things that keeps me going is knowing I got a free day tomorrow, and I'm going windsurfing," he told the crowd.
Kerry was battered on the Iraq war last week. Seizing on Kerry's promise to wage a "more sensitive war on terror," Vice President Dick Cheney responded with heavy sarcasm.
As well, Cheney's charge has shown signs of fatigue. "Bushisms" are popping back into presidential speech.
Signing a defense bill 10 days ago, Bush declared: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country, and neither do we."
Exhausted politicians say the darnedest things. Arriving in San Diego to debate President Clinton in 1996, Bob Dole told backers how glad he was to be back in San Francisco.
Ronald Reagan referred to Sen. Don Nickles as "Don Rickles" on the campaign trail. In a famous Spokane blooper, he extolled then-state Republican Chairman Jennifer Dunn as "Dunn Jennifer."
Bush seems at times to forget what he does. "Give me a chance to be your president, and America will be safer and stronger and better," he told a Marquette, Mich., rally in July.
No wonder "Dunn Jennifer" and Republican bigwigs have limited Bush's campaign visits, particularly in the Northwest, to private gatherings of rich fund-raisers and small ticket-only rallies.
By getting out of their schedulers' boxes, however, candidates -- and presidents -- can learn something.
The reminders flashed to mind as Kerry's motorcade made its way up the Columbia River on Saturday.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was a wartime president, confined to a wheelchair, in an era before constant air travel.
Yet, FDR was able to visit and dedicate Bonneville Dam. He dedicated Timberline Lodge up on the slopes of 11,269-foot Mount Hood.
He was driven through aluminum plants in Longview and Troutdale inspecting wartime production.
Kerry will be skimming across the surface of the Columbia this week if the Gorge is its customary windy self.
If elected president, however, he (or a re-elected George Bush) will face major environmental and energy challenges beneath the river's waves.
Columbia River salmon runs were being fought over in court Friday, just as Bush and Kerry were staging rival events in Portland.
Bolstered by a big propaganda campaign, the Bonneville Power Administration has sought to curtail late-summer water releases over Snake and Columbia river dams to help young salmon migrate to sea.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski objected, citing fish biologists' estimates that shutting off water spills would kill as many as 500,000 juvenile fish bound for the Pacific. In turn, commercial and recreational fishermen would see 20,000 fewer adult fish returning to the river.
The power guys lost this round. U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered that the spill go forward. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his ruling Friday.
Chinook salmon populations in the Columbia River made a dramatic recovery in 2001 -- largely because of ocean conditions. The trend since, however, has been downward.
At the end of this month, the Bush administration is scheduled to go before Redden with a new plan for the future of Columbia and Snake river salmon.
Enjoy the waves while you can, Kerry. The great river will be kicking up controversies if you win.
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