Edwards' visit planning creates some confusion

Friday, August 6, 2004

Thursday's short campaign rally in Cape Girardeau for Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards was hastily planned and plagued by confusion, say some political observers and those involved in security for the event.

"We just didn't know for sure whether he would be stopping in Cape Girardeau or not," said Simon Ebenstein of Jackson, chairman of the Cape Girardeau County Democratic Central Committee.

But Cape Girardeau police chief Steve Strong said the Secret Service notified his department over a week ago that Edwards would be spending Wednesday night in Cape Girardeau.

"They had a campaign schedule that kept changing," Strong said. "But the fact that he was going to spend the night never really changed with us."

However, Strong said his department received conflicting reports on whether the rally would be open to the general public or a closed meeting with select party members.

Rumors of Edwards' visit first started circulating last week. The Southeast Missourian, citing information from Cape Girardeau County Democratic Central Committee member Cris Edwards of Jackson, reported Sunday that John Edwards would attend a rally in Cape Girardeau at 9 p.m. Wednesday at a location that was still to be determined.

Cris Edwards -- no relation to the candidate -- insisted Thursday that the changing campaign schedule didn't reflect poor planning.

"It wasn't thrown together," she said.

But Jim Grebing, who has worked with state Democratic Party campaigns -- such as former Secretary of State Bekki Cook's -- in the past, said there appeared to be some confusion in the plans for the Cape Girardeau stop.

Grebing said it's common for last-minute changes in campaign schedules. But he estimated that at least 1,000 Democrats from the region would have attended Thursday's rally if there had been more time to plan it.

As it was, over 600 Kerry-Edwards supporters attended the morning rally.

Cris Edwards and Ebenstein said Kerry-Edwards campaign officials determined where and when the "Believe in America" rally would be held. The local Democratic Party assisted but didn't run the show, Cris Edwards said.

She said changes were made in the bus schedule. "The priority went to major stops," she said following the rally Thursday. "We were a minor stop."

The Kerry-Edwards campaign originally booked 80 rooms at the Drury Lodge. But those reservations were canceled Monday morning, according to a motel employee.

Cris Edwards said it wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that the Edwards campaign staff settled on the Thursday morning rally at the Victorian Inn, allowing local Democratic Party workers to start notifying Southeast Missouri Democrats who were required to pre-register in advance to attend the rally.

People were notified by e-mail and telephone, Ebenstein said.

Some supporters arrived as early as 5 a.m. The event was held in a roped off parking lot behind the Victorian Inn. That area was opened to the crowd about 7 a.m.

Ebenstein said a few hundred people were turned away Thursday morning because they hadn't registered in advance. But by 8:30 a.m., security personnel started letting in people who hadn't registered in advance but could show identification, he said.

Edwards spoke briefly to the crowd shortly after 9 a.m. before boarding a campaign bus to travel to a rally in St. Louis.

Edwards, his family and campaign and security staff spent Wednesday night at the Victorian Inn, taking up most of the motel rooms, the police chief said.

Candy Cane Cleaners in Cape Girardeau spent the night doing a mountain of dry cleaning and laundry for the candidate and campaign staff. Strong said he saw all the dry cleaning and laundry being returned to the Victorian Inn early Thursday morning.

The Edwards' campaign caravan rolled into Cape Girardeau about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, having made the trip up Interstate 55 from a campaign stop in Memphis, Tenn., Strong said. A heavy storm slowed the caravan on its journey, delaying the arrival, the police chief said.

"We were surprised that it was not any later," Strong said.

There were about 22 vehicles in the caravan, including three buses, the police chief said.

About 20 Cape Girardeau police officers were involved in security during the campaign visit to Cape Girardeau, adding to what Strong called "an army" of security personnel including Secret Service agents and state troopers.

Officers were stationed at I-55 interchanges as the caravan entered the city. The Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department and Jackson and Scott City police departments also were involved in the security effort.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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