JACKSON HOLE, WYO.
This resort town in the Tetons is used to political celebrities and takes them in its stride. Usually they come and go, undisturbed and unremarked upon by the laid-back folks who live here. When he was president, Bill Clinton ambled around town in summer buying pizzas. Members of the Kennedy clan visit, and must stand in line just like anybody else. When James Baker was secretary of State, he brought Eduard Shevardnadze, his counterpart from Moscow, here for a summit meeting. Vice President Cheney has a home here and can often be seen placidly fly-fishing along the Snake River.
But given the heat of the presidential election campaign, Mr. Cheney's regular visits using Air Force Two have roused partisan feelings. In last week's issue of the town's weekly paper, the Jackson Hole News, letter-writer Kevin Pusey huffed about the "lack of respect for the environment, the overconsumption of gas and oil, and wastage of taxpayers' dollars," caused by the "oversized" plane's visits, accompanied by "helicopters, army trucks and gas-guzzling SUV's."
The Wagner family riposted: "We welcome the choppers and always wave. We appreciate your work."
This unaccustomed tetchiness seems to reflect the rigid partisanship in the nation at large over what seems to be an increasingly close presidential election campaign.
As Republicans get set to laud - and protesters to lambaste - President Bush in New York next week, the president and Senator Kerry are running neck and neck. The big critical states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida are hotly contested, and the votes of the narrow sliver of independent swing voters are likely to carry the day.
What are some of the factors Bush can hope to capitalize upon and push him over the top?
• Firstly there will be the expected postconvention pop in the polls resulting from the widespread media coverage in New York.
• Then there is the spat over Kerry's military record in Vietnam. Frankly, the continuing carping over both Kerry's wartime service and Bush's service as a Texas National Guard fighter-pilot strikes me as somewhat tedious. As far as Bush is concerned, flying jet fighters is hardly a task for the wimpish. As for Kerry, running a swift boat in the Mekong Delta similarly takes guts. In my own time as a correspondent in Vietnam, I spent a few days with a swift squadron, and it is no fun racing down narrow rivers trying to draw Viet Cong fire from the jungle-covered banks.