BEAVERTON, Ore. – President Bush's team exerts close control over admission to his campaign events. Dissenters and would-be hecklers are turned away, campaign officials say. On several occasions in recent weeks, Democrats who have gotten in have been ejected because they wore pro-Kerry T-shirts.
The Bush campaign billed his visit to Beaverton as a chance for ordinary citizens to pose questions to the president.
But first, his audience at "Ask President Bush" heard a 21-minute speech from Bush. Then there were 22 minutes of testimonials on his domestic policies from four supporters. After that, Bush moved into a second speech lasting 24 minutes on terrorism and Iraq, along with a few comments about his meetings with world leaders.
His audience did not mind waiting more than an hour for the question-and-answer session. This was no town hall appearance before a cross-section of citizens. Bush-Cheney re-election headquarters had instructed Oregon campaign officials to distribute tickets, so the school gymnasium was filled last Friday with 2,000 passionate Bush backers.
By contrast, most of Kerry's events are open to the public, though there have been some town hall events that are invitation-only. For certain appearances, the Kerry campaign has distributed tickets to the local party, unions and other supporters.
But Kerry spokesman David Wade said that any member of the public can get a ticket from a local campaign office or from the affiliated groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Many people are admitted without any ticket.
"I think America deserves a president who is willing to talk to anybody, I don't care if you are Democrat, Republican or independent," Kerry said Friday.
Kerry's more open approach carries political risks. Sometimes protesters show up and try to disrupt his appearances. To get across their point that Kerry is a flip-flopper, they often clap flip-flop sandals over their heads, and chant, "Four more years!"
Such dissent is never a problem for Bush.
When the time came to "Ask President Bush" Friday, none of his 16 questioners challenged him on his policies. Several did not ask questions at all, but simply voiced their support.
"If it wasn't for your tax cuts and your stimulus and your steady hand since 9/11, my job would never happen," one man said.
"Could you take a moment to pray for Oregon, for us, right now?" asked one questioner. (Bush declined.)
"Mr. President, as a child, how can I help you get votes?" another audience member inquired.
"Thank you for serving!"
"My husband and my twins and I pray for you daily, as do many home schoolers. Thank you for recognizing home schoolers."
Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said the Bush team strives to draw some undecided voters to each event, though he could not estimate how many typically attend. There appear to be few fence-sitters at Bush's events, where audiences frequently interrupt the president to cheer.
The president's events are not designed to convert Kerry backers, but rather energize Bush's base, aides say.
"The thousands of people at these events are the messengers for the campaign," Stanzel said. "They go out and spread the message, whether it's at their place of business or their VFW or sportsman's club or just in their neighborhood."
Bush's camp has taken other measures to keep non-supporters out of Bush's events.
Last month, some Democrats who signed up to hear Vice President Dick Cheney speak near Albuquerque, N.M., were refused tickets unless they signed a pledge to endorse Bush. The Bush campaign described the measure as a security step designed to avoid a disruption it contended had been planned.
Campaign spokesman Dan Foley said people calling for tickets from an anti-Bush group's telephone line underwent screening. Those seeking to attend the speech but giving false names were denied tickets, he said.
Bush's admission policy can leave the impression that the president has strong support wherever he goes.
Labor unions traditionally align with Democrats and have not been particularly friendly to Bush. So when Bush spoke at a Las Vegas union hall Thursday, the campaign used its usual ticket distribution policy to pack the hall with backers.
The crowd roared its approval throughout the speech. Some tickets were also given to union members. A few of them sat silently in the back rows.