Eyeing 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, John Kerry made an appearance at 1600 East 8th Ave. in Ybor City. The event Tuesday gave a glimpse of what the campaign of coming months will be like. While giving such a preview, the event could also not have been much more different from the visit Dennis Kucinich made to the USF campus the week before.
Congressman Kucinich, a contending member in the race for the presidency, spoke at USF without much of any security force present. Not counting Student Government president Omar Khan, who probably would have tackled anybody coming too close to his personal hero Kucinich, only one police officer was present during Kucinich’s stay on campus. And even then, he was incognito, only given away by a small emblem on his suit’s lapel as he ambled through the aisles.
Seeing the Tampa bomb squad, accompanied by two K-9 units as quadruped backups, screening the area hours before Kerry even landed at Tampa International Airport sent the clear message that this was now getting serious. A few minutes later secret service agents — donning their classic “men in black” outfits, with earbuds in their ears and carrying hard-shell suitcases that were about the size of violin cases — arrived and sealed off the area.
This was an event attended by the man who may soon be the President of the United States, so it was understandable that security was taken seriously. While Kucinich was competing in the same ballgame, Kerry and he were definitely playing in different leagues as far as security was concerned.
The turnout for the event was good even though the candidacy had been all but locked at this point. An hour before the event was scheduled to start, the line to pass the metal detectors went down a block on 8th Avenue, then wrapped around the corner for another block.
The group of people attending the event was quite an eclectic mix.
I spent some time sitting next to a campaign volunteer that used her old-lady charm to get people standing in line to sign up as volunteers as well. Just like the other volunteers, she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself and was quick to say that while John Edwards had kissed her on the cheek, Kerry was even more charming and that she was hoping to attend the Democratic Convention in Boston as a delegate in July.
Speaking to the people in line, it was also apparent that most of them thoroughly enjoyed just being there. Even a guy donning a turban and fake beard, holding up a sign that read “al-Qaida supports Kerry” probably had bet on getting more of a rise out of the people in line. One man pointed at him and said “Even you support him? Well he will clearly be president then,” which drew laughs from everybody except the bearded demonstrator.
Kerry himself also was upbeat when he took the stage. Some of it may have been just an act, but since this was his third event in front of capacity crowds in one day and he was leading in all polls, it seemed as if he was honestly enjoying being on the campaign trail.
The same was reflected by the members of the press, some of which had covered his campaign from the beginning. One reporter, filming the event for The New York Times, said that this was way more interesting than his early appearances and would definitely beat standing in the snow in New Hampshire for hours, not even knowing if the guy he was covering even had a shot.
Because Florida and its 25 electoral college votes is so important in what is shaping up to be a very close race, Kerry will no doubt swing by the state again a few times before November. He may not enjoy it as much as his self-proclaimed “Spring Break” visit, but judging from the response from the crowd Tuesday, he will be a welcome guest nevertheless. And that in itself is probably the best news Florida democracy has heard in some time. Having people not only show up, but also enjoying it that much, bodes well for a good campaign for the rest of the year.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science and an Oracle opinion editor. firstname.lastname@example.org