FULTON — On Thursday, a day before John Kerry is scheduled to arrive and three days after Vice President Dick Cheney left, you could have driven straight past Westminster College and not realized it was America’s political battleground du jour.
There were no banners. No protests. Few students meandered about and the Winston Churchill Museum was as dead as a department store on Christmas. It’s striking, considering the national attention the college has received since Monday, when Cheney was chided for giving a stump speech when college officials said they thought he was making a foreign policy announcement.
Westminster President Fletcher Lamkin said he was disappointed that the event turned into a campaign speech and he invited Kerry to respond.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell said earlier this week that the speech will be positive and will outline Kerry’s plan for peace in Iraq.
Backlash bites Bush, Cheney
Some students decried Cheney’s speech as rude and classless, although Bush-Cheney campaign officials said the vice president did nothing wrong.
“I seriously question whether I’ll vote for Bush-Cheney now,” said Westminster senior Hope Eaton, who said she is a long-time Republican. “His speech showed a real lack of class.”
The misunderstanding between Republican campaign officials and Westminster’s administration immediately focused the national spotlight on this small college town of 11,000, just as students were winding down their final week of class.
“I think political interest here has probably reached a maximum,” said Glen Frerichs, a Westminster chemistry professor and former longtime chairman of the Calloway County Republican central committee. “But this is the last week of classes ... It’s busy.”
In many ways, students and professors say, this week is part of the legacy Winston Churchill started. In 1946, the former British prime minister delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech here and world leaders have been visiting ever since.
From a political standpoint, Frerichs said, Fulton is also an important campaign stop in a swing state regarded as the condensed American voting base. Because of its mix of blue- and white-collar workers and its characteristically independent-minded voters, he said, Fulton is like a microcosm within a microcosm.