Nine-year-old Zachary Smith is keyed up about the upcoming presidential election -- so much so that after getting up at 5 a.m. Thursday, sitting through an hour-and-a-half drive from his home in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and then waiting in line for almost another hour, he still had energy enough to pace around the Victorian Inn parking lot in Cape Girardeau, toting his homemade "Kerry and Edwards Rules" placard.
His enthusiasm was not unique.
Zachary, mother Dianne Smith and grandmother Genell Samples were among the crowd of more than 600 area Democrats who were invited to hear their party's vice presidential candidate speak outside the Cape Girardeau motel. John Edwards stayed at the motel Wednesday night before a rendezvous with running mate John Kerry in St. Louis later Thursday morning.
Dianne Smith received her invitation by e-mail this week and promptly preregistered. Neither she nor her son would have missed it, she said.
"I'm enthused that there are people talking about issues I can believe in. Especially after four years of some things I don't believe in."
Zachary was a bit more blunt.
"We don't like Bush so much," he said.
Their invitation entitled them and the rest of the faithful to an hour or so of waiting in line, the necessity of adults providing a photo I.D. for a quick security check with a metal-detecting wand and then another two-hour wait to hear a two-minute address from Edwards as he stood in the bed of a Dodge pickup.
"It's clear that people are hungry for new leadership," Edwards announced before the applauding group.
He then pledged that a Kerry administration would fight for more affordable and better quality health care for all, comparable to what he and his fellow lawmakers receive. A Kerry administration would also work to create new jobs, he said.
Edwards also addressed the war on terror, promising to keep America safe and support our troops. He then vowed to protect veterans. To achieve these things, Edwards asked for the audience's assistance.
"We can do great things for this country together with your help," Edwards said.
During the short speech, Zachary waved his sign from his perch atop the shoulders of Sonny Bodenstein, a 6-foot 7-inch Cape Girardeau friend the Smiths had recruited for this purpose. The two-member crew worked its way to the front as Edwards jumped down from the truck to shake hands.
For many, the brief speech was secondary to the chance to shake hands with the North Carolina senator, who at 51 is known for his boyish good looks.
"I'm so star-struck," one woman said.
Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Bekki Cook of Cape Girardeau, who met Edwards briefly before the event, said her husband couldn't join her but warned her, "Don't leave with that guy."
Having emerged from his tour bus at 9:08 a.m., Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, were apparently running late for their date with Kerry at 11:30 a.m. in St. Louis. The Edwardses said their hellos and goodbyes and then were whisked into the buses by the Secret Service and out of the lot toward Interstate 55 by 9:27 a.m.
Those in attendance didn't seem to mind Edwards' brevity.
"I was a little disappointed that the speech was so short," said Joannie Smith of Commerce, Mo. "But getting to shake their hands was worth it all."
Apparently Zachary was also pleased with the way events unfolded. After Edwards left town, Zachary walked back to his family's minivan with a huge grin on his face. He kept pointing at his sign, at a scribbling of black ink that clashed with its original blue and red marker.
"He signed it," Zachary repeated joyously.
As his mother pulled out of the parking lot on the other side of the hotel, Zachary was still trying to talk her into following his hero to St. Louis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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