Young crowd widens knowledge, enthusiasm toward politics

Friday, November 1, 2002

When 8-year-old Andriel Young of Poplar Bluff, Mo., was asked why she came to Jim Talent's campaign rally, she said it was to see the president.

Well, close enough.

The presence of the nation's vice president, Dick Cheney, drew the younger crowd to the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport Thursday. The hangar was filled with an estimated 2,000 people, hundreds of them not old enough to vote.

In addition to the 200 or so band members from Jackson High School and the few dozen Notre Dame Regional High School choir members, many teenagers were visible wearing high school jackets.

A Boy Scout troop led the Pledge of Allegiance and flanked the stage where the VIPs sat. There were even a few babies in the crowd.

"We thought this exposure to politics would give the children a good learning experience," said John Humphreys, the school administrator of Malden Christian Academy. "As a church, we need to be a part of the political system."

Justin Gibbs, a Jackson High School student, organized a group of 21 of his peers to lend support to the rally. Gibbs and the others helped decorate posters for the rally, and a few of the youths sat on stage Thursday while the vice president spoke.

"It wasn't hard finding people to see the vice president," Gibbs said.

Perhaps the most excited youth was Cody McKinnis, a 16-year-old from Poplar Bluff.

"Mr. Cheney shook my hand," he said told a friend after the rally, his voice raising to a higher pitch.

McKinnis said the rally wasn't as uptight as he thought it would be.

Perhaps it was U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson who put him at ease as she tried to work the crowd on stage, clapping and dancing to the various tunes, including "Footloose" and "The Hey Song," the latter being familiar to many from sports competitions.

Emerson, who introduced the area's state representatives and served as unofficial Jim Talent cheerleader, was clearly the most animated of the politicians, and that wasn't lost on the crowd.

Worn out

Many older adults also clapped and cheered, but became fatigued as there were no chairs for the general audience. About 20 people, some who stood for more than two hours, ended up finding chairs from the press area or sitting on the floor.

Janet Bean of Kennett, Mo., became overheated and fainted at the conclusion of the event. She is the wife of Republican candidate Otto Bean Jr., who is seeking the 163rd Missouri House of Representatives seat. She collapsed and hit her head on the floor. Cape Girardeau fire marshal Mike Morgan said her condition was not serious, but she was taken by an ambulance to St. Francis Medical Center, where emergency room staff said she was treated and released.

Other than that, and the few protesters who held anti-war picket signs outside of the parking area, most left happy with the remarks made by Cheney and others.

"I think the biggest highlight for me was that he was so positive," said Diana Lawson of Delta. "He seems so sure that we're going to beat Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. He exuded a lot of confidence. He was here for Jim Talent, but he was also here to say we're going to be OK."

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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