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Daily Dispatch - 02/19/00
Running the Red
Presidential campaign overrules traffic laws
J. Patrick Coolican
y2kWhistlestop reporter

CLEMSON, S.C. - Y2kwhistlestop is often late and lost. Given the opportunity to follow the Bush caravan from a rally in Anderson, S.C. to another in Clemson, we took it, figuring the event wouldn't start without them.

It didn't help. We made enemies with Bush's impressive security force and still missed the beginning of his speech.

Traveling on the wide concrete expanse of the divided highway, we were surrounded by corporate restaurants, gas stations and big box stores. From the oceanic parking lots lining the road, patrons could see "South Carolina is Bush Country" emblazoned on the side of the bus.

As three lanes became two, the lead car in the caravan, an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, merged in front of our Chevy Blazer while the Bush bus slipped behind us. We had broken up the caravan. In the rearview mirror, I saw a man crouched next to the bus driver talking on his walkie-talkie.

Suddenly the driver of the lead car raised a left finger out of his window and made a circular motion. Apparently this signifies something, but I didn't know what. A man in the back seat turned around and motioned for us to move to the right lane. My instinctual fear of authority took hold, and I complied, albeit a bit irritated at the assumption that a presidential campaign can make me change lanes by lifting a finger.

We drove alongside the caravan, which included the Crown Victoria, the "South Carolina is Bush Country" bus, four minivans, a Ford Expedition and another Crown Victoria. The press buses had been sent ahead to the next rally. The caravan wasn't escorted by marked police, so people had no reason to anticipate what happened next.

We approached a stoplight, which turned yellow as the lead car went through the intersection. The light turned red. We stopped, as the law generally requires. The bus went ran the red light. Then one minivan went through. Then another. Then another. Then another. We stared in disbelief.

The Ford Expedition stopped at the light. After a car that had been waiting at the intersection made a left, the Expedition went through the red. The light turned green as the rear Crown Victoria went through the intersection.

We were incredulous. With each vehicle that ran the red, we expected the following one to stop, only to see it speed ahead. Thankfully, this disregard for common traffic law did not cause an accident.

The caravan was running slightly behind schedule, although by the standards of a presidential campaign, they were practically early. After the light turned to green, we moved aheead. Red stop. Green go.

Fueled by adrenaline, I was determined to catch up to the caravan. It came into viewing distance, but I could get no closer, in spite of the fact that I was accelerating to 60, now 65, now 70 mph. The posted speed limit was 45. But not for the Bush campaign, which had to speed to the campus of Clemson University so that Gov. Bush could tell the crowd "I know how to run the wheel of the people."

Suddenly the caravan turned off the road into a national guard armory lot. We followed it, thinking we were at the back entrance to the event. Within seconds a South Carolina state trooper approached and asked if he could help us. We're here for the event, I responded. "You'll have to pull out and head straight down the road," he said.

"Ok," I replied, "So what's going on here?"

"You'll have to move your vehicle," he said.

"Sure. But what's going on here?"

"You'll have to move your vehicle!" he shouted.

We left and found our way to the campus. Bush had beat us there and was a few minutes into his stump speech when we entered the theater of 800 or so supporters.

We noticed when we were in New Hampshire how the presidential campaign buses disrupt normal life. They roll into town in a long caravan of vans and buses, park where they need to and unload for the event. Campaign workers stop cars so they can pull into traffic. Sure, these are important people with important business, but it must drive the locals crazy. We heard as much at a bowling alley in New Hampshire, as people tried to bowl amidst the sea of cameras and reporters covering Bush's game.

But as obtrusive as they often are, the buses obey traffic lights and speed limits.

That one red light crystalized the arrogance of this presidential campaign. Presidents have motorcades - with police escorts. Until you fly around in Air Force One and start leading the Free World, stop at the red lights.

Next Stop: Columbia, SC

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