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George, Jeb put on a show

Published Sep. 27, 2005

The two Bushes encounter mostly enthusiasm at Top of the World condominiums. But some in the crowd say they haven't made up their minds yet. George W. Bush took questions on immigration, welfare reform and the military.

Hundreds of seniors gently elbowed each other and pressed up against the glass doors to Top of the World's east recreation center Monday, hoping to squeeze inside for George W. Bush's town meeting.

Would he talk about Social Security? Or Medicare? Or maybe affordable prescription drugs?

Elaine Hoffman, perspiring in a rose-colored sweater and matching hat, rolled her eyes at the thought.

"I hope he doesn't talk about pharmaceutical matters. I'm sick and tired of old folks setting the agenda," said Hoffman, 78, who was far more concerned with what the presidential hopeful could do for her seven children, 23 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. "My kids have to work so hard and pay so much in taxes. I'm interested in the future."

Bush brought a little something for everybody Monday. For people like Hoffman, he touched on tax relief and education. For the 10,000 seniors who live in Top of the World, he addressed health care and Social Security.

Responding to questions from audience members, Bush talked about immigration, welfare reform, the military and the importance of strong families.

"When he let the crowd speak, they showed that old people wanted to talk about a lot of things," said Robert Colen, 27, a graduate student at the University of Florida and one of the youngest voters in the room.

There were some youngsters there _ what would a campaign forum be without a few babies to kiss? But most of the 700 faces belonged to the over-60 crowd, many of whom had stood outside in the heat for more than two hours to land a front-row spot for the event.

"We want to make sure we get a good seat," said Ann Pollock, 83, who pressed toward the door with her friend Bernice Dow, 71. The two women, both Top of the World residents, like "100 percent everything" about Bush, Pollock said.

"We believe he's going to help the seniors," said Dow, who saw President George Bush when he spoke at the Clearwater condominium community on his 1992 campaign trail.

Once inside the recreation hall, audience members tapped their feet to a variety of tunes by a live band and craned their necks toward the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. At 12:55 p.m., nearly a half-hour late, the brothers Bush stepped through the door to a thunderous standing ovation.

"My dad came here as a candidate. I came here as a candidate. This is like icing on the cake to have my brother here," said Jeb Bush. "George, we could've filled this 10 times over because you're loved here."

"I think he's just great," said Largo resident Dorie Graham, 73, who attended the speech with her daughter and granddaughter. "My personal opinion is anybody who votes for Gore is an idiot."

Not everybody left the event with such a high opinion of Bush. Quite a few people with tickets were shuffled from entrance to entrance and then finally told there was no room for them inside the recreation center.

"I guarantee that Gore would let me in, no problem," said Jess Krug, president of the Top of the World shuffleboard club. "I'm going to watch (Bush) on TV. It's a shame, they made very poor arrangements."

Another woman was irate that the event had been scheduled for about noon but the Bush campaign was not providing lunch.

Doris and Hugh Weber took the chaos in stride. The couple, married 46 years, had not even tried to get tickets to Bush's talk. Instead, they set up lawn chairs under some shady palms near the recreation center, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Texas governor.

"Just to be able to sit on the fringes and see what's going on," said Hugh Weber, 70, who looked far more comfortable in his tank top and shorts than those trying to push inside in their Sunday best.

Bush answered questions for almost an hour before heading off to engagements in West Palm Beach.

"There's a better day ahead for this country. There is with better leadership," he told the crowd as he wound up his speech. "I'm just asking you to let me be that leader."

Annette T. Sterrett said she enjoyed Bush's talk, but her vote is still up in the air.

"I'm going to wait for the debates before I make up my mind," she said.