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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Democrats' Rally Turns Into a Shouting Match

Kerry and Edwards struggle to be heard over Bush backers at a train stop in Missouri.

August 07, 2004|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

SEDALIA, Mo. — It was supposed to be an idyllic image for the Democratic presidential ticket: From a train's rear deck, the running mates would greet 2,000 cheering supporters on a quick nighttime stop in this factory town.

Instead, Sedalia's railroad tracks were the scene of a loud, face-to-face clash late Thursday that spotlighted America's political divide, as supporters of President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, tried to shout each other down.

Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, struggled to be heard over the din. With police and Secret Service agents keeping the crowd at bay behind makeshift barricades on the tracks, the candidates sought -- without success -- to calm the commotion.

"My children are on this train," Edwards told the group that was shouting "Four more years!"

Edwards continued: "Show 'em some good Missouri manners, if you don't mind."

Lined up behind the caboose railing -- which was decorated with red, white and blue bunting and a "Believe in America Tour" emblem -- were Kerry, Edwards and Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the presidential nominee.

Earlier this week at a rally in Milwaukee, Heinz Kerry had responded to Bush backers yelling for "four more years!" by saying they wanted "four more years of hell." But Thursday night, she took a less confrontational approach.

"If [First Lady] Laura Bush were here, I'd say hello politely to her, and I'd expect all Democrats to do that too," Heinz Kerry said in Sedalia, birthplace of ragtime pianist Scott Joplin and home of the Missouri State Fair.

Dueling roars continued to erupt from the tracks: "Ker-ry! Ker-ry!" "Bush! Bush!"

Kerry braved the raucous reception by giving an abbreviated stump speech, but seemed eager to roll on toward Kansas City, Mo.

"Unfortunately, I've just been informed by Amtrak that we've got a train out here that's holding," he said.

"It's the Bush train!" a man bellowed. "Go away!"

"We want Bush!" some yelled.

"Ker-ry!" responded others.

Kerry chuckled.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he told his supporters. "Look, let 'em chant, ladies and gentlemen. Because they've only got three more months to chant!"

"They don't want to hear the truth!" Kerry told the crowd. "They don't like the truth!"

Central Missouri has trended more conservative in recent years, so Kerry's train ride across the state took him through many towns where Bush is popular, said David Webber, a political science professor at the University of Missouri. He said the Sedalia clash reflected the polarization of the state and the country.

Sedalia Mayor Bob Wasson called the confrontation "unfortunate," and blamed it on fellow Republicans trying to taint the Kerry-Edwards rally.

"It wasn't just some people who got drunk in a bar and came down and decided to do something," he said. "It was well-orchestrated."

Edwards, in his remarks to the crowd, vowed to put an end to "the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past."

"When John Kerry is the next president of the United States, there will be no red states, no blue states," he said. "No division of America."

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