The Downside of a Presidential Visit

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, August 19, 2004; 11:34 AM

Getting a visit from the president of the United States is losing some of its charm in swing-state communities that are frequently being used as backdrops for the presidential campaign.

That's because when the campaign has moved on and the excitement has died down, there are some hefty expenses left to be paid.

Some cities have tried billing the Bush campaign for their costs, but most aren't having any luck with that tactic.

Visits from Vice President Cheney and the Democratic ticket also create problems, but apparently don't cost quite as much.

Looking through news Web sites in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin lately, you sure hear a lot of grousing.

Paul Levy and Bob Von Sternberg write in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Ah, the joys of playing host to a big-time presidential candidate: the hoopla, the excitement, the shining moment in the national media spotlight, the crushing bills for providing security. . . .

"A growing number of officials in small communities around the nation have taken a look at the bills they've accumulated in the aftermath of recent presidential campaign visits and decided they aren't about to be stuck with the check.

"But so far, at least, they've mostly been stiffed."

Tom Saul writes in the Quad City (Iowa) Times: "From the time Air Force One touched down at the Quad-City International Airport near Moline at 10:45 a.m. Aug. 4 and departed at 1:07 p.m., the president's campaign visit cost Quad-City taxpayers at least $289.44 per minute. The Kerry visit was a comparative bargain for at least $46.76 a minute for his nearly 15-hour stay."

Francis X. Donnelly writes in the Detroit News: "The frequent visits of presidential candidates to Michigan spew more than exhaust upon state highways. They leave a plume in the shape of a dollar sign.

"The political trips have cost Michigan communities more than a quarter of a million dollars in the past year, and the cost will rise during the 11 weeks left in the campaign, according to interviews with law enforcement departments."

An overwhelming majority of readers in the News's highly unscientific cyber survey say that, all in all, they'd rather the presidential candidates just stayed away.

Ian C. Story writes for the Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle: "The opportunity for some to see a sitting president may be priceless, but President George W. Bush's visit to Traverse City could cost area taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars."

Mick Trevey of WBAY-TV in Green Bay reports: "Visits by presidential candidates take a big bite out of taxpayers' wallets. As Action 2 News found out, recovering the costs isn't easy."

Karen Rauen of the Green Bay (Wis.) Press Gazette writes: "President Bush and Sen. John Kerry's campaigns will be hearing from the city of Green Bay."

Some Get Reimbursed

I'm not exactly sure why, but in some cases, the Bush-Cheney campaign is ponying up.

Joan Kent writes in the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune: "The Bush/Cheney campaign has paid the city of La Crosse $7,822 for expenses from President Bush's May 7 rally. "

Chris Winters writes in the King County (Wash.) Journal Reporter that local law enforcement agencies who geared up last Friday for Bush's private fund-raiser at a home in Medina, outside Seattle, will be getting reimbursed by the Republican Party.

"'They will pay the expenses,' said U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, who is chairwoman of the Bush/Cheney campaign in Washington state and a major Bush fund-raiser herself.

"Dunn indicated that the Republican Party intends to reimburse the city of Medina and local law enforcement agencies for any security costs associated with Bush's visit. That's because this is a purely political event, organized by the Republican National Committee, and is not open to the public."

Some Don't

But in other cases, cities are getting the cold shoulder.

Christina Gostomski writes in the Allentown Morning Call: "John Brenner, the Democratic mayor of York, billed the Bush-Cheney campaign $21,057 for police costs incurred for a Bush rally held hours after the Kutztown University event.

"The mayor's invoice was returned with a letter from assistant campaign treasurer Sal Purpura saying the Secret Service is in charge of protecting the president."

The $1 Million Bill

Regardless, all those overtime numbers are actually pretty piddly when compared to what it cost for the Boeing Co. to give all the workers at its plant outside Philadelphia the day off when Bush visited on Tuesday.

Boeing spokesman Jack Satterfield told me yesterday that he estimates that it cost the company about $1 million.

Satterfield said that Boeing decided that there was no way the Secret Service could sweep the facility with all the workers around. So about 4,500 employees got the day off with pay. (They're unionized.)

Employees were offered tickets, and many of them accepted. Satterfield estimated that at least two thirds of the audience of about 9,000 were Boeing workers, their families and friends. The rest of the tickets were distributed by the Bush campaign.

Satterfield was adamant that no one was paid to attend. "The point was, we told our people whether they came or not, they would be paid," he said.

And he said the $1 million cost is being absorbed by Boeing -- not by the U.S. government, which of course is paying for pretty much everything Boeing is doing there.

So how does that work?

"We have provisions for special charging which will be absorbed into what we call our overhead, and the federal government will not be charged," he said.

Traditionally, that only happens when there's a massive snowstorm, or some other act of God, Satterfield said. "I'm not drawing any parallels, but I'm saying the circumstances were literally beyond our control."

Satterfield said Boeing was told up front that the president was coming on a campaign stop, not an official visit. And he said Boeing considered the legal and ethical issues before deciding that it was appropriate to proceed.

He said the $1 million should not be considered a gift to the campaign.

"It wasn't [a gift] and it has nothing to do with the political campaign," he said. "This was an instance where the president of the United States, who happens also to be a candidate running for office, came to thank us for doing an excellent job for the national defense. This was an opportunity for our employees to see the president of the United States -- the commander in chief -- thank them for building an excellent helicopter and doing excellent work in support of our armed forces."

Satterfield said he could not imagine any company -- particularly one providing services for the armed forces -- doing any differently.

Helping the Guard

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush proposed new educational benefits for National Guardsmen and reservists on Wednesday, using a campaign appearance here to appeal to part-time troops disillusioned by extended tours of duty in Iraq."

Here is the text of his speech in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

National Security Looms Large

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks transformed him into what he calls a 'war president,' and 76 days before an election that will probably turn in large part on national security issues, George W. Bush is still trying to burnish his credentials as commander in chief."

The Washington Post's Robin Wright reports: "Foreign policy and national security concerns are considered more important by Americans this campaign year than at any time since the Vietnam War, and perceptions of success or failure in Iraq could be dominant in swaying swing voters in November, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. "

Here's the full report from Pew.

About 'Ask President Bush'

Hanna Rosin writes in The Washington Post: "Every campaign has its preferred way of cavorting with the common man, and they are always somewhat canned. . . . Bush prefers the 'Ask President Bush' sessions, the campaign equivalent of the infomercial, with an audience designed to look as if it's been plucked randomly off the street, delighted anew at each twist and turn of the master's demonstration, irrepressibly bursting with questions and comments."

Here's a scene from Hudson, Wis. yesterday:

"'What do you got?' the president taunts them when the questioning session opens, and then calls on the first hand.

"'Mr. President,' begins a young man in a baseball hat. 'I just want to say I'm praying for you and God bless you.'

"And then one questioner later:

"'I would just like to say that I agree with this gentleman, that we should all pray for you.'"

Rosin writes that "it's no mystery why Bush likes them. Each session is like a 90-minute support group dedicated to him. In them he is 'bold,' a 'fighter,' 'the man for this job at this time,' in the words of various questioners, someone whose 'candle is burning brightly.' He is a 'man of faith' or a 'man who lives by his faith' or who's 'answered a calling.' Meanwhile, Kerry is 'Jane Fonda's poster boy,' from one questioner in Pennsylvania, or 'a candidate with two self-inflicted scratches,' from one in Oregon."

Here is the text of the "Ask President Bush" event in Hudson.

Drugs and Abortion

Bush's answers yesterday in Hudson were actually unusually newsworthy.

Adam Entous of Reuters writes about two answers , one about drugs, the other about abortion.

"President Bush, facing growing anger among senior citizens over the high cost of prescription drugs and a virtual revolt by some states, conceded on Wednesday it 'makes sense' for Americans to be able to import cheaper medicines as long as they are safe," Entous writes.

"I'm looking at this," Bush said. "There is a lot of pressure in Congress for importation. So I think it makes sense for us to make sure that we can do so in a safe way. If it's safe, then it makes sense."

Entous continues: "Bush also signaled he would use a second term to gradually push through legislation to limit abortion rights."

"Now, cultures change slowly," Bush said, "and this is still a very -- it's a very heartfelt debate on behalf of -- in the political process, on the abortion issue. And my attitude is that I'll sign laws that begin to change people's perception of life, and at the same time, speak out for a culture of life. . . . "

Nightfall in St. Paul

Tony Kennedy, Kevin Duchschere and Terry Collins write in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Bush was introduced at his St. Paul campaign rally by the city's highest-profile Democrat, Mayor Randy Kelly. The event was led by syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham.

Here is the text of Bush's speech in St. Paul.

Bill Salisbury, Kevin Harter and Jim Ragsdale write in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Kelly was warmly received inside the Bush-loving arena, but protesters watching the mayor on an electronic billboard outside chanted, 'Recall Kelly!' and 'Not my mayor!' Volunteers said they soon will begin collecting signatures door-to-door to try to put a recall measure on the ballot."

Bushism Watch

The White House transcription team had to use another "(sic)" yesterday.

As AFP reports, Bush yesterday in Hudson "spoke of 'the Soviet dinar,' even though dinars are the Iraqi currency."

Bush was retelling one of his favorite stories, about seven Iraqi men who had their right hands cut off for illegal currency trading and who visited him in the Oval Office after receiving artificial hands in America.

From the transcript: "And because the Soviet (sic) dinar had devalued, Saddam Hussein plucked this guy out of society to punish him, and six other small merchants, for the devaluation of their currency. He just summarily said, you're it, come here -- and cut his hand off."

Some Bushisms are hard to figure. This one is a piece of cake, right?

And I take back what I wrote yesterday. It turns out that the transcription team uses "(sic)" quite a lot. In fact, in the Bush White House, there's a whole lot of sicness.

The Chief, the Chiefs and the Cheese Curds

Bush made two unscheduled stops yesterday.

Adam Teicher writes in the Kansas City Star about Bush's stop at the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp.

"Wide-eyed players with mobile phones or digital cameras snapped pictures and lined up to shake hands with the president, who passed through River Falls on Wednesday on his way from one Wisconsin campaign tour stop to another."

Here is the text of his remarks while visiting the Chiefs.

Chuck Rang writes for about how Bush "made a stop at the Cady Cheese Factory this afternoon and picked up a platter of cheese curds."

"He would not let me give them to him, he insisted on paying," owner Wendy Marcott told Rang, "and he must have liked them, because he was eating some when he walked out into the parking lot."

Return of the Sound Bite Queen

Bob Hillman of the Dallas Morning News filed this report for his colleagues from Wisconsin: "Karen Hughes, who sought out your pooler, says she's officially on the BC '04 payroll, as of Aug. 15. She said she was being paid about $15,000 a month, the same salary she had drawn earlier as a consultant to the Republican National Committee.

"'I'm back,' she said cheerfully. 'I took the training wheels off today.'

"'I've been joking I needed training wheels to get back in the groove,' she explained.

"She's traveling with the president for the rest of the campaign, she said, as she's done since his first run for governor of Texas in 1994.

"'I'll give input on speeches and work on message and sound bites,' she said."

Intel Watch

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post that "a skirmish between the White House and the Kerry campaign has postponed the sort of intelligence-sharing that has been standard during presidential races over the past half-century."

Another Denied Admission

And here's another story of Bush campaign workers denying admission to a Kerry supporter, this one from an event on Monday.

Ian C. Storey writes in the Traverse City Record-Eagle: "Kathryn Mead wanted to see her first sitting president when George W. Bush visited the city.

"Instead, Bush campaign staffers tore up the 55-year-old social studies teacher's ticket and refused her admission because she sported a small sticker on her blouse that touted the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards. . . .

"Ralph Soffredine, a Traverse City commissioner, school board member and former police chief who worked security at the front gate, said it is part of the Bush campaign policy.

"'We were told that anyone with stickers or shirts would not be let in if they would not take them off,' he said. '(Mead) came to me after her ticket was torn up, but I told her there was nothing I could do.'"

Live Online

Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank will be Live Online tomorrow at 11 ET. Submit your questions and comments now.

Laura Bush Watch

Bill Sammon writes for the Washington Times: "During an interview with The Washington Times, Mrs. Bush laughed incredulously when asked whether the press was fair and impartial in its coverage of a conservative such as President Bush. Her press secretary, Gordon Johndroe, laughed even more heartily."

Twins Watch

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News: "Jenna Bush has been bitten by the campaign bug and will not be teaching in Harlem this fall, the Daily News has learned.

"'She is not going to teach this fall,' First Lady Laura Bush told The News. 'After she started working at the headquarters and started traveling with her dad, she decided she would wait until the spring so she could be involved all fall with the campaign.'

"Laura Bush said that Jenna's twin, Barbara, also has decided to put her career plans on hold until after the first of the year to stay on the election trail."

© 2004