LIVE BLOG: President Bush visits Kansas to boost Ryun

Speech to begin after 6 p.m.

? We’re live-blogging today’s campaign rallies today. Follow along!

¢ 2:27 p.m.: President Bush isn’t here yet.

No worries. He’s not supposed to be for another three hours. But we’re getting the live-blogging started now, because the politicking has already started.

The president, of course, is here to rally support on behalf of incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun. A Republican poll leaked this week indicates that Ryun is trailing his opponent, Democrat Nancy Boyda, by two points. While that’s well within the margin of error, it’s uncomfortably tight for Ryun, who has pretty much run away with his previous races.

Not content to let Bush and Ryun have all the spotlight, Boyda just held a rally of her own on the steps of the state capitol. It was a noisy crowd, with only a few protesters attending; Boyda asserted that at least 1,000 people — many of them union employees at the Topeka Goodyear plant — were on hand. “I don’t want to see stories in the press saying ‘a couple of hundred people were on hand,'” she warned the assembled media.

Her stump speech seemingly mentioned President Bush more often than it mentioned Ryun, her opponent. She laid responsibility for America’s ills — the war in Iraq, particularly — at the president’s feet. “Jim Ryun has been a go-along guy” for the president’s policies, she said.

“They are worried, they are worried sick about losing (Ryun’s) seat,” Boyda said of Republicans.

We’ll be live-blogging all afternoon and into the evening. First, though, we have to get into the Kansas Expocentre, where the president will be speaking. Getting through security at a presidential event is always an adventure, so wish us luck.

In the meantime, use the comments section below to discuss the Ryun-Boyda race and President Bush’s appearance. If you have any questions about what’s going on, leave them there and I’ll try to get them answered in the blog.

Returning soon.

¢ 3:16 p.m.: Made it through security. I’m at the Expocentre. Only … three hours to go.

There’s already more than 1,000 people inside — probably more than that — with hundreds more in line outside. We do know that all 8,000 tickets available for this event were snapped up pretty quickly.

Not much political to report on right now. The Washburn University cheerleaders are here — dancing to the groove of a marching band, perhaps also Washburn’s. (Current music: “Pretty Fly for a White Guy,” followed by a drum piece that sounds like the theme from “Green Acres.”) Most people are taking seats, but a young crowd had gathered in the “mosh pit” area directly in front of the stage. The house lights are low, with spotlights circling everywhere, like we’re about to watch a Vegas show. Good times.

¢ 3:29 p.m.: I should mention that there wasn’t much in the way of protesters while I was approaching the Expocenter. This was at around 3 p.m., so it’s kind of early, but only about a dozen people standing on the sidewalk in front of the Honda dealership across the street. Signs: “Where’s WMD?” and “Impeach Bush.”

¢ 3:34 p.m.: Presentation of colors by the Topeka West Junior ROTC. They’re all dressed in 1776 Revolutionary War outfits, followed by an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Pat Howser of St. Paul leads the pledge, followed by “God bless America and God bless President Bush.” Dixie Road sings the national anthem.

*3:41 p.m.: Ron Freeman, executive director, speaks. “There is a fundamental difference between what Republicans believe and what Democrats believe.”

Republicans, he says, believe that people free to work hard and produce make our country great. “When you think about the other guys, their agenda – and I believe it’s genetic – that if you give them enough of your money, if you give them control of your local schools, if you let them run your business,” then everything will go fine.

Chuck Ahner, Dennis Moore’s Republlican opponent for Congress in the 3rd District, takes the stage — though Topeka is outside his district. He touts the high stock market and the low unemployment rate – the results, he says, of the Republican Congress. He also mentions John Kerry’s botched joke about Iraq this week. Many boos.

¢ 3:46 p.m.: More Ahner.

“Do you want Speaker Pelosi?”

Crowd: “Noooo!”

“Do you want Senator Kerry leading the Senate?”

Crowd: “Noooo!”

“I intend to be the next representative from the 3rd District in Kansas on Tuesday!”

¢ 3:51 p.m.: Dixie Road is back on stage. “Does anybody like country music in here?”

¢ 3:55 p.m.: While the music is going, we look elsewhere for coverage for the day.

AP has already sent out its story about Boyda’s rally — perhaps earning her ire by estimating the crowd at 500.

Still, AP says: “The day’s events were a stark contrast to the Ryun-Boyda race two years ago, when Ryun beat Boyda handily. In recent weeks, analysts said Ryun has been caught in the wake of an anti-incumbent wave that has put seats such as Ryun’s in play.

“‘She couldn’t have gotten this crowd two years ago,’ said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist.”

¢ 4:03 p.m.: Dixie Road covers Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” That’s followed by Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” – which, incidentally, was the first song played at Boyda’s rally after her speech. Clearly, the main question in this election is: Who can lay the best claim to the blessing of Lee Greenwood?

¢ 4:14 p.m.: Freeman pitches Phill Kline, saying the attorney general has won the death penalty case before the Supreme Court, a water rights case with Nebraska and helped pass “Jessica’s Law” in Kansas. “For anyone to conclude the Phill Kline is inexperienced, you must be a liberal.”

¢ 4:15 p.m.: Jim Barnett, the GOP candidate for governor, takes the stage – no jacket, no tie.

He mentions Bill O’Reilly. Big cheers.

Says Gov. Kathleen Sebelius chaired John Kerry’s campaign in Kansas. Big boos.

“We can win Nov. 7 with your help,” he says.

¢ 4:21 p.m.: Karen Seaberg, Atchison, takes the stage for the Ryun campaign.

“I don’t expect you to agree with Jim Ryun on every issue. I don’t – I don’t think any congressman can do that. But I know Jim and his family are of high moral fiber.”

¢ 4:29 p.m. Freeman again: Boyda’s “answer on Iraq is a bipartisan commission. Jim Ryun’s answer is to support the generals and the troop on the ground.”

Freeman was apparently referring to Boyda’s support for the Iraq Study Group, led by Republican Jim Baker (a former secretary of state) and Democrat Lee Hamilton. That study group was created by the Republican Congress last March.

¢ 4:49 p.m.: Atty. Gen. Phill Kline takes the stage.

“There is no more fundamental obligation of the attorney of our state to protect the vulnerable and the innocent against those who would harm them,” he said.

He mentions Jessica’s Law. Also, a cybercrimes task force that targets online predators. And his defense of the Kansas death penalty before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Right now, there are those who are trying to hold themselves above the law by buying the office of attorney general,” Kline says, defending his effort to obtain medical records from abortion clinics in what he says is an effort to go after child rapists.

¢ 4:55 p.m. Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh takes the stage. “The Chiefs won!” he announces. Big cheers.

“Don’t get me wrong — I’ll go for the Chiefs applause every time.”

Thornburgh, who oversees elections in the state, exhorting Republicans to get to the polls on Tuesday — painting a dark vision of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and Charles Rangel as a committee chairman.

He praises Barnett, Kline and Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. “I’m proud of this ticket,” he says.

Sebelius, he says, has spent eleven-zillionty dollars on advertising.

¢ 5:07 p.m.: Freeman again. He urges the party to unify behind Republican candidates — instead of splitting into moderate and conservative camps. If that happens, Republicans certainly win against Democrats in Kansas.

“There’s more of us than there are of them,” he says.

¢ 5:33 p.m.: Lights go down. Canned music — then the canned voice of the “Let’s Get Ready to Ruuuuumblllllllle!” guy. Then Van Halen. Everybody thought something was happening besides Van Halen — but no. Only Van Halen. We’re in the “killing time until the president gets here” stage of things.

Oh, and it’s Sammy-Era Van Halen. We’ll check in later with the Democrats to see if they more strongly favor the David Lee Roth Era. The musical questions are of great importance in this election.

¢ 5:38 p.m. Noted liberal John Mellencamp is being played over the sound system. “I fight authority, authority always wins.”

¢ 5:44 p.m.: U2 is turned down — no more music jokes. Air Force One has just landed, we’re told.

¢ 5:45 p.m.: Dave Toplikar, LJW reporter, tells me he was outside a half-hour ago. The protest has grown to about 35 people, he says – including some Lawrence residents: Carlena Haney and her husband, Barney, with a hot-pink sign calling the president a “war criminal” and “God Forgive America.”

Other Lawrencians: Cathy Callen, Steve Dahlberg, Ann Hamil and Bill Getz.

The crowd is doing the wave in the stands. Country music has returned.

¢ 6:05 p.m.: Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jim Ryun take the stage, along with Sen. Sam Brownback. We’re underway for the main event.

¢ 6:06 p.m.President Bush enters, to Van Halen and thunderous applause. No jacket, no tie. Blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves.

¢ 6:08 p.m.: Rep. Todd Tiahrt first — he represents the Wichita area. “I’m here tonight because Jim Ryun has got to be elected, and you need to make that happen!” Big cheers.

He introduces Ryun.

¢ 6:09 p.m: Ryun: “It’s truly a pleasure to be here tonight with the president.” Introduces the president as “my good friend and fellow runner.”

¢ 6:10 p.m.: Big cheer for the president.

“So Jim Ryun says, ‘Do you want to race?’ I said, ‘No, but I want to see you re-elected to the United States Congress.”

Ryun is a “compassionate conservative,” the president says. “He doesn’t need a poll or a focus group to tell him what to believe.”

Adds: “I thank you for being here, and I’m asking you to send this good man back to the United States Congress.”

¢ 6:12 p.m.: Introduces other Republicans on the stage, including Barnett and the lieutenant governor candidate Susan Wagle, as well as the other state candidates.

“We’re heading to the finish line and we’re asking for your help. Whatever you do, don’t pay attention to the prognosticators, to the pundits … they’ve forgotten that Kansans haven’t gone to the polls.”

Republicans, he said, “can control the House and we’ll control the United States Senate as well.”

GOP will win, he said, because “we share the values and the priorities of the American people.”

¢ 6:17 p.m.: Says Ryun and GOP can help the farm economy and reduce foreign-oil dependency at the same time.

“In other words, we’re going to use Kansas products to power our automobiles so we’re less dependent on foreign oil.”

And Ryun believes in family values. “He lives them. … And he’s working to prevent the institution of marriage from being redefined by activist judges.”

¢ 6:19 p.m.: Pitches the success of tax cuts as a spark for a “strong and growing economy.” The national unemployment rate is down to 4.4 percent. And the deficit has been cut in half “three years ahead of schedule.”

“If you vote for a Democrat, you’re voting for a tax increase,” Bush said.

¢ 6:25 p.m.: Someday, Americans will ask: “Did we do everything in our power to win the War on Terror?”

Terrorists have no conscience. “We believe in freedom, they don’t. We believe in liberty, they don’t. They understand America won’t change. You cannot negotiate with these people … the best way to do our job to protect you is to face them overseas so we do not have to face them here at home.”

¢ 6:27 p.m.: Promotes the Patriot Act, which he says knocked down a wall keeping law enforcement and intelligent agents from sharing information.

“You cannot wait to respond to an attack. You’ve got to act before the attacker.”

If Al Qaeda makes a phone call to the United States, “we better understand why.”

(Dave Toplikar reports: Security forces forces have just removed a man in a gray suit off the floor and up the stairs through the bleachers, dragging him part way.)

The best way to protect America, Bush says, is to send Ryun back to Congress.

¢ 6:31 p.m.: President defends invasion of Iraq. “The decision I made to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision, and the world is better off for it.”

Today, he notes, Hussein was convicted and sentenced to death. Big cheers. This, he says, is a “major achievement for this young democracy.”

¢ 6:34 p.m.: “Our goal is to achieve victory in Iraq,” he says, adding: “We’ve got a plan to do just that.”

Insurgents believe the U.S. “doesn’t have the will or capacity to stay in for the long run. … we’re not going to run from thugs and assassins”

¢ 6:37 p.m.: No matter your view of the war, “you owe, and everyone owes, a debt of gratitiude to the United States military.”

Jim Ryun is a strong supporter of the military, Bush says.

Iraqis support a government “of, by and for the people.” They’re being trained to take the fight to the insurgents. And if Bush thought we couldn’t succeed, he would pull troops out.

“The only way we won’t succeed is if we leave before the job is done.”

Iraq is a central front in War on Terror, he says, and Democrats have no plan for victory.

“I’m not saying these people are unpatriotic,” Bush says. “Yes they are!” yells a man in the crowd. Bush: “I’m just saying they’re wrong.”

¢ 6:44 p.m.: Notes that his father fought the Japanese in World War II, but Bush has worked with Japan to solve the nuclear problem in North Korea.

“Something happened. What happened was Japan adopted a Japanese-style democracy. Liberty has the power to change an enemy to an ally.”

¢ 6:48 p.m.: He goes into the litany of Democrats vs. Republicans — on health care, security, “activist judges” and security.

“I thank you for coming! Go vote! Get your friends and neighbors to vote, and send Jim Ryun back to Congress! God bless, and God bless the United States of America!”

¢ 6:53 p.m. Well, that’s it. Thanks for joining us for the live blog. Feel free to hang out in the comments section.