Insert Comma logo
Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
Cheeseburger and a pair of Johns

Rally withstands last-minute change of venue, as Republicans uproot Kerry’s Colorado digs

By Leigh E. Rich

As with the cheeseburger, passions were stirred last Friday regarding the Colorado origin of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. While Kerry’s running mate John Edwards proudly boasted the Rocky Mountain state as “the birthplace of the cheeseburger, the birthplace of the rodeo, and the birthplace of the next president of the United States” at their campaign kickoff at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium, the Colorado Republican Party held its own rally in support of President Bush on the steps of the state Capitol.

In a related statement issued while the Democratic team roused its Colorado supporters—who were cheerful despite a last-minute change of venue from Fitzsimons to the Fillmore—Ted Halaby, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, maintained that Kerry “has strayed far from his rather shallow Colorado roots.”

Friday was the first time, following the Denver rally, the Massachusetts senator has visited Aurora and the Fitzsimons campus, now part of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, since he was born at the former army hospital in 1943. Kerry’s critics emphasize that he stayed but a few months after his birth before he and his parents headed back east.

“John Kerry may have been born in Colorado,” Republican Sen. Wayne Allard decried in a statement also released last Friday, “but he learned his priorities in Massachusetts.”

There is no doubt the four-term New England senator was born in the Centennial state, but whether he can claim to be “truly a son of the West,” as Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette deemed him at the rally, is another matter.

With Republican naysayers attempting to establish roadblocks along the Kerry-Edwards “Freedom Trail,” the Democratic team might have to rethink the cheeseburger connection. Burger aficionados contend that, though Denver entrepreneur Louis E. Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In trademarked the cheeseburger in 1935, Ballast arguably was beaten to the cheesy punch in 1926 when Californian Lionel Sternberger of Pasadena’s Rite Spot grill concocted his “cheese hamburger.”

But similar to Colorado’s rodeo connection, which a 1969 Colorado House Joint Resolution made official when it declared Deer Trail, Colo., host to the world’s first rodeo in 1869, Kerry does have rubber-stamp ties to the state.

Halaby’s statement belittled such claims, however, avowing “Sen. Kerry has few connections to Colorado” and has distanced himself “even farther from the values of the residents of this state.”

None of which stymied the Colorado Kerry crowd, with rally-goers waiting for hours outside the music venue with no guarantee they would be admitted to the actual assembly. Despite issuing approximately 15,000 tickets to Kerry supporters for what was originally supposed to be an outdoor event on the Fitzsimons campus, impending thunderstorms and Denver’s ever-unpredictable weather forced a last-minute switch of locales.

Calling the rally’s change of venue frazzled but controlled, Steve Haro, the Colorado communications director for the Kerry campaign, said, “We had to make a call, and we did,” adding that with any outdoor event there is always an alternative location waiting in the wings.

Though the Fillmore plan was already in place, Haro said his team “scrambled” to rebuild the rally site inside the auditorium the evening before—though there was little outward evidence of the eleventh-hour switch on Friday.

Whereas Fitzsimons could have hosted 10,000 or more, however, the capacity of the Fillmore, according to Haro, is “3,800-plus.”

“We’re hoping to capitalize on that ‘plus’ as much as we can,” Haro said just as the rally was getting under way. Still, according to estimates that put the displaced Kerry congregation around 5,000, about one-quarter of the attendees were unable to get into the crowded hall to hear Kerry and Edwards’ speeches focusing on service to the country and reuniting a divided America.

Attempting to strengthen his ties to his birthplace, Kerry specifically spoke of Aurora as the “Gateway to the Rockies,” praising its early residents for their “deep faith and their strong sense of community, their hopeful confidence that America’s best days were still ahead.”

The Denver-based rally attendees quieted, however, as Kerry explained that Aurora means “dawn,” with Kerry’s speech lurching awkwardly through these Aurora references. He managed to reinvigorate the crowd back into top rally form with kudos for the burgeoning Fitzsimons medical facility, revitalized by the University of Colorado system after the military base was put on the Base Realignment and Closure list in 1995.

When asked whether the move from Aurora’s Fitzsimons campus diminished the Kerry-Edwards Colorado sendoff, Haro disagreed.

“The symbolism is still there,” he said, pointing out that when Kerry was born in the “west wing” of the hospital, Fitzsimons was a part of the U.S. government and belonged neither to the city of Denver or Aurora.

If the rally would have remained at the Aurora campus, however, “I think you would have seen this kind of crowd and then some,” Haro said.

Regardless of the smaller venue and the fact that many in the Kerry crowd were unable to get a good view of the candidates, who were obscured by the press platform dominating the Fillmore’s main floor, Kerry applauded his still-ecstatic supporters.

“It’s hot in here and you’ve been here a long time,” he apologized, after taking center stage following Edwards’ introduction.

And in spite of his stereotype as a straight man, Kerry opened his speech with self-deprecating humor.

“We have a lot in common,” Kerry joked about he and his veep running mate, both of whom are lawyers and U.S. senators.

“He is a John and I am a John,” Kerry elucidated. “… (And) he was named by People magazine as the sexiest politician in America and I read People magazine!”

As the Kerry-Edwards flock erupted in laughter, the 2004 presidential candidate wasted no more time and embarked on his speech—officially commencing a sort of reverse Oregon Trail he and Edwards hope to blaze to a Democratic White House.

Rich, L. E. (2004, July 30). Cheeseburger and a pair of Johns: John Kerry and John Edwards launch their official campaign from Denver. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 6–7.

Comments are closed.