GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The Texas governor, a young aide for George W. Bush was saying last winter, had a campaign stop in "Grand Rapids ... or Grand Forks ... or, well, whichever 'Grand' is in Michigan."
If folks here might have taken offense back in January, they'd be thrilled with some political anonymity today. And they'd be quite happy to direct the Bush camp, or Vice President Al Gore's camp, or any other candidate's camp to any "Grand" that isn't this one.
"We're getting used to all the campaigns, but it's not like we lay out the red carpet," City Manager Kurt Kimball said. "On the contrary, we're just not flattered anymore."
An election season that, to many, has felt a bit long and a tad slow, has become downright interminable in this town of about 200,000 on the southwest side of the state.
Gore was here. Then Bush was here. Then Bush's mom was here. Then his dad. Then Gore came back, and brought his wife. Then Bush came back, and brought his wife.
And that's just in the past month. And it's only for the presidential race. And it doesn't include nonfamilial surrogates.
It's also eight years after Mayor John H. Logie, tired of presidential candidates with the security needs of "insecure monarchs," wrote a testy letter to the Republican and Democratic national parties and the Secret Service. Either pick up the tab for police overtime and other city costs -- then running between $2,000 and $5,000 per visit -- or stay away, he wrote.
They did neither.
"Yes," sighed Kimball, "We always breath a sigh of relief when the candidates leave."
With 18 electoral votes and a seesaw track of opinion polls, Michigan has been one one of the most heavily contested states in the nation for the two major presidential campaigns this year.
In the final hours of the contest, it remains one of the closest battles. Four polls have been taken during the past five days with Gore clinging to a single-digit lead in three of the surveys and Bush leading in one.
The high stakes are reflected in the frequency of candidate visits. And since January, Republicans and Democrats combined have poured about $15 million into the state for political television ads.
This year, Grand Rapids is a battleground town -- an unlikely and increasingly surly one, in virtually every contest from the presidential race on down. This despite the fact that the city is famously conservative -- having voted against Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996 even as he carried the rest of the state -- and almost certain to vote Republican again.
"We're trying to build big margins in Grand Rapids and western Michigan to combat the big margins the Democrats are building in Detroit," explained Sage Eastman of the state's Republican Party.
The Democrats, for their part, are trying to thwart those big Republican margins.
Hence the dueling yard signs, which outnumber the yards in some neighborhoods by a ratio of 5-to-1. Hence the mailboxes overflowing with campaign fliers.
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