Bush Crosses Historic Lines in Local Stop
The message was clear long before George W. Bush stepped from the train Wednesday and began speaking Spanish to the crowd alongside the tracks.
There had been mariachi bands playing and black gospel singers raising the rafters, and it was all taking place in a blue-collar, predominantly Latino city with deep Democratic roots.
At one point, the Republican presidential candidate leaned forward and declared in Spanish, “America’s children belong to everyone!”
Wild cheers erupted from the tightly packed crowd of Republicans, sweating under a midday sun while burning with conservative passion.
The new Republican emphasis on racial inclusion found some fresh converts and wary cynics among the roughly 5,000 people who turned out to see Bush’s “Change the Tone” whistle-stop tour of California that began at the Oxnard Amtrak Station.
William Anderson was smitten.
The 71-year-old physician and a deacon at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Oxnard said blacks had made little progress under the Clinton administration.
“George Bush offers something entirely new,” said Anderson, a member of the Ventura County Republican Party. “He’s bringing everyone together--black, white, brown, yellow and orange--and he proved that at the convention.”
Pedro Rincon Flores wasn’t buying it.
“I’m here for the mariachi music,” said the 78-year-old Oxnard man. “I’m not really a Bush supporter. He’ll get a percentage of the Latino vote, but I’m a Catholic, I’m a Democrat and I’ll never change.”
The train station was decked out with a massive flag and a giant Uncle Sam float that seemed to dance along with the pop tunes piped over the intercom.
Local politicians, such as Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) and Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks), were present but didn’t speak.
Bush arrived at Point Mugu Naval Air Station and was driven over to Uncle Herb’s restaurant at Saviers and Pleasant Valley roads where he skipped breakfast but spent about 45 minutes shaking hands with customers.
“We knew his favorite pie was pecan and we made him a whole pie,” said Ron Lassiter, who owns the 34-year-old eatery. “We made his entourage 30 cinnamon rolls. He was supposed to pour coffee, but he didn’t have time.”
Bush did manage to autograph a few Uncle Herb T-shirts, which will be hung up as mementos.
Jaime Zendejas brought children from the Boys & Girls Club of Oxnard and Point Hueneme to see the action.
“I’m a Democrat,” said Zendejas, but he added that “Oxnard is a good place to start if he is trying to win over Latino voters.”
Boy Scout Troop 238 of Oxnard got ringside seats at the speech.
“I’m kind of young, but I’m going to be a Republican,” vowed Richard Hurley, a 13-year-old Scout. “It seems to be a good party to belong to.”
Joyce Pinkard, a singer in the St. Paul’s Baptist Church choir, stood in her blue-and-white gown awaiting her turn on stage.
“I think it’s something that will put Oxnard back in the history books,” she said of the visit. “I think George Bush is a good man. I’m a Texan and he’s got my support for being a Texan.”
But will she vote for him?
“It’s up in the air right now,” she said.
There were also about 20 demonstrators who showed up to protest Bush’s antiabortion stance and his support of capital punishment.
“Oxnard is Democratic!” they shouted.
“It bothers me to think he thinks he can stop for 15 minutes and get the Latino vote,” said protester Joan Adams, president of the Camarillo Democratic Club. “And it’s not going to work.”
Fellow protester Ann Malashock said Latinos will remember Proposition 187, which denied public education, medical and social services to undocumented immigrants. The proposition, backed by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and approved by voters in 1994, was later thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional.
As Bush’s train pulled in, the song “What I Like About You” blared, and hundreds of supporters with signs, stickers and pompoms charged up the tracks. The sun beat down for about 20 minutes before Bush came out with his wife, Laura.
The governor praised his running mate, Dick Cheney, and gave a short speech on the importance of cutting taxes, improving education, beefing up the military and putting a bit of respectability back in the White House.
After the speech, a machine showered thousands of red, white and blue paper stars on the crowd. Bush stepped off the train briefly to shake hands.
Emery Seider, 71, of Ventura was buoyant.
“Everything he says is magnificent,” he said. “He’s never indicated that he’s lied about anything yet and character is the most important thing to me.”
Ventura County Republican Party Chairwoman Jackie Rodgers, who introduced Bush to the audience, was beaming.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” she said. “There were so many people from so many ethnic groups. He’s taking this country by storm.”
Outside the nearby Super Mercado, Hector Perez leaned against a wall and tried to analyze the situation.
“I like Bush and I like his father. Also, he is governor of Texas and he speaks Spanish very good,” said the 42-year-old Oxnard man who sells restaurant supplies. “And he has Mexicans in his family so he must like Mexico.”
* MAKING TRACKS
During his train tour, Bush vows to carry California in November. A16
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