WASHINGTON – Jessica Slatten isn’t a particularly big fan of President Bush’s. The Silver Spring resident concedes that she only voted for him because she liked his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, even less.
But Slatten was still willing to endure long security lines and stand for hours on a soggy Mall to watch as Bush was sworn in to a second term Thursday.
“I am just so excited to be here and to be so close,” said Slatten, who stood blocks away from the Capitol steps and relied on a giant screen to watch the ceremony.
Whether they were there for the ceremony and history, like Slatten, or true Republican believers there to celebrate their victory, Maryland residents joined thousands in Washington for Thursday’s inaugural events.
The events took place under cloudy and cool January skies — and the watchful eyes of thousands of police and Secret Service agents who manned checkpoints throughout the cordoned-off heart of the city for the unprecedented security surrounding the event.
Spectators waited at least an hour to get through security checkpoints where bags were checked, metal-detecting wands were used and all were patted down. The high level of security left most visitors saying they were unconcerned about potential terrorist attacks at the first inaugural since 9-11.
“Oh yeah, we got patted down,” said Shannon Cassidy, a Silver Spring resident who took off from work to attend the swearing-in with Slatten.
Like Slatten, Cassidy said she voted for Bush, even though she seemed less than enthused about him. That was not the case with other Marylanders, who were clearly there for their man.
Linda and Dwight Busick of Berlin, Md., said they “worked hard on the lower shore” for the Republican Party and wanted to feel like a part of the inauguration.
Ocean City resident Ann Granados said she is a lifelong Republican who attended inaugural balls for President Bush’s first swearing-in and for the inauguration of his father. She took a pass on the balls this year, saying she did not think a third round was necessary, but said the swearing-in ceremony itself was a priority.
Others at the event were also clearly supportive of the president. The sea of bodies that packed the snow-covered Capitol lawn Thursday was peppered with red, white and blue Bush/Cheney paraphernalia. Stickers that read “Viva Bush” clung to fur coats, and cowboy hats bounced up and down around the lawn.
There was palpable excitement in the crowd: Bush’s impending arrival sent whispers and spontaneous applause though the crowd. As his motorcade drove up to the Capitol, people screamed for Bush as if he were a football star.
The crowd’s energy was high from the introductions of senators and congress members (Kerry elicited boos from the crowd) to the end of the swearing-in, when dancing and cheering broke out.
While chanting protesters ringed the parade route, sparking occasional scuffles with Bush supporters, dissidence was all but invisible and inaudible at the swearing-in itself.
Mitchellville resident Jesse Helsel applauded zealously through Bush’s speech. Helsel took the day off work to witness the swearing-in of Bush, a man he admires for his conviction, his faith, his clarity and a laundry list of other attributes he cited Thursday.
“It was the least I could do,” he said of the time off and 30-minute drive to Washington. “Some people sacrificed a lot more to be here than I did to be here.”
People from Ohio, New York, Florida, California, Alabama, Michigan and many other states wore buttons with messages like: “W: Still our President.”
Some Maryland residents said they were there only because of the out-of-towners. Bush voter Bruce Fredrick of Ellicott City said he was at the swearing-in because his brother and sister-in-law flew up from Florida and planned to go to balls and the parade. Fredrick just tagged along for the ride because the inauguration is such an important day.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Fredrick — although he admitted it was actually a twice-in-a-lifetime experience for him, since he attended Bush’s first inauguration four years ago.
— Capital News Service reporter Elizabeth Weiss contributed to this story.
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