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George W. Bush to visit Top of the World condos

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

The Texas governor campaigns Monday at the huge Clearwater complex.

It takes a special event to pre-empt the usual Monday bingo match at Top of the World condominium complex.

A visit by George W. Bush apparently qualifies.

The Monday bingo group graciously agreed to reschedule its activities so the Republican presidential candidate could visit the east recreation center sometime between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Monday.

Like his father, who visited Top of the World during his 1992 campaign, the younger Bush recognizes the enormous voting potential within the sprawling Clearwater complex that 10,000 call home.

The place is so large, it takes up three voting precincts. Forty-seven percent of the voters there are registered Republicans, 36 percent are Democrats.

Some were more excited than others about Bush's impending visit.

"Oh my goodness. I'd be happy to meet him," said resident Leo Teske, 88 and a Republican. "I think he's very honest. When he says something, I know he's going to do it. That Gore, to me, he jumps all over the place, whichever way the wind blows."

Top of the World employee Joe Miller took the news in stride.

"We've had them here before," said Miller, recalling George Bush's 1992 visit. Gerald Ford also visited the complex in the 1970s.

"Most presidential candidates, whenever they can open their mouth, they're happy to be there," he said.

Bush, accompanied by his brother Gov. Jeb Bush, is expected to talk about prescription drug benefits for seniors on Medicare and possibly Social Security. His speech is open to the public, but audience members must get a ticket in advance.

Other than the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, where Bush is scheduled to land about 12:30 p.m., Top of the World is his only planned Pinellas stop Monday. Flag-wavers and others who want a peek at the presidential hopeful are welcome inside the airport, which has hosted Presidents Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Carter as well as Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister.

"I've got a whole wall full of photos of myself with all these famous people," said airport director Jim Howes, who said Bush's visit would not throw the rest of the airport's flight schedule out of whack.

If you miss the candidate this time around, relax. Republicans in the know say he'll likely visit Florida quite a few more times between now and the Nov. 7 election.

"I bet we see him again," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, who will miss Bush's visit because of a prior obligation in Tallahassee. "There's no way George W. could be elected president without carrying Florida."

If you go

Free tickets to George W. Bush's speech are available at Top of the World east recreation center, 2069 World Parkway Blvd. in Clearwater, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets also can be picked up from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the grand opening of the new Republican Party south county headquarters, 6000 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg.