Nine Las Vegas police motorcycles streamed through the gates of the Tournament Players Club shortly before noon Thursday, followed by an unmarked police car with its headlights flashing, a black-and-white cruiser, and two limousines, one of which presumably contained Vice President Dick Cheney.
For that brief instant, Cheney’s vehicle passed about 60 protesters gathered on sidewalks to the left and right of the entrance, who chanted “No more endless war!” and held up signs with slogans such as “Honk if you hate Cheney.”
Cheney was in Las Vegas on Thursday to raise money for the Nevada Republican Party at a luncheon at the Summerlin home of Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, which is inside those gates. The fundraiser was closed to the media.
Democrats and several anti-war groups rallied their members for the protest, and not just locally. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a “Cheney Does Vegas” e-mail to activists nationwide urging them to donate money to “fight back” against Cheney’s “posh fundraisers to fund GOP attack ads.”
Melony Franchini, a 23-year-old recent UNLV graduate, got wind of Cheney’s visit from MoveOn.org, the online liberal activist group.
“I’m here to let Dick Cheney know 70 percent of Americans don’t support the war,” she said. “He’s got to listen sometime.”
Illustrating the level of fury Cheney arouses on the left, the protesters didn’t mince words. Some signs were unprintable. Others: “Ditch the Dick,” “Impeach Cheney First,” “No More Blood for Oil,” “Hey Dick, Go Surge Yourself!”
“That man is evil,” said Jim Hyder, a 67-year-old retired veteran wearing a T-shirt printed with the names of Americans who have died in the war and the words “Bush Lied” on the front, “They Died” on the back.
“I’m not a religious man, but he’s the closest thing to the devil I’ve ever seen,” said Hyder, who said he fought in Vietnam and “saw enough murder and wrongful death to last a lifetime.”
George Bubnis, 64, carried a sign that said “Darth Vader,” an appellation Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., gave Cheney recently. Others said their anger was at the war, not just Cheney.
Jacob Roberts of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, one of the protest organizers, said he hoped to send a “pro-troop message.”
“The surge was supposed to help, but this summer has been the bloodiest we’ve seen for our troops,” he said. “And yet we get rosy statements from the White House based on cherry-picked evidence.
“It’s important we let Cheney know that we know the truth about what’s going on in Iraq, and we’re not going to put up with it.”
Inside, the mood was very different. Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Zac Moyle said the fundraiser attracted more people, about 80, and raised more money, more than $100,000, than organizers expected. It was $250 per person to attend the luncheon or $2,500 to get one’s picture taken with the vice president.
The money will go to the state party’s Victory 2008 fund, used to support Republican candidates up and down the ticket.
Moyle said Cheney was “very personable, relaxed and cordial,” focusing his informal remarks on the 2008 election and national defense.
Monte Miller, a local businessman and Republican activist who attended the event, said Cheney “has the ability to very calmly talk about the very serious challenges we’re up against there.”
Cheney expressed concern about Iran’s financing and equipping of terrorists in Iraq, saying a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops could lead to a dangerous power vacuum, but rebutted allegations the administration is headed for war with Iran.
“He was very frank about that,” Miller said. “He said, ‘Look, I think we have to make sure that Iran can’t do some unspeakable thing. But we’re in negotiations with Iran right now. We’re trying to talk to them and deliberate with them. That’s what the president is trying to do.’ “
Cheney’s visit to Nevada was part of a Western fundraising tour that stopped in California Wednesday and headed to Colorado Thursday evening. Today, he is scheduled to appear in Utah and Wyoming.
“He said it’s going to be a tough election, but he’s optimistic,” Miller said. “If I were to evaluate his whole mood on the election, I think he’s more optimistic than I am. As an active Republican, I’m concerned about our efforts, and I think we have to make some major changes in our party if we’re going to win. That’s my opinion. The vice president didn’t talk about those things.”
A frequent question that arises from such visits is their cost to taxpayers. Janelle Kraft, budget director for the Metropolitan Police Department, said much of the security could be handled by shifting officers already on duty.
In this case, there were some overtime costs, which she said would be billed to the Republican Party because it was a campaign rather than an official visit.
“We will attempt to collect whatever we have to spend,” she said.
Outside the gates, a hard-core group of protesters stayed until Cheney’s motorcade came back out. He might not have gotten their message, but he did acknowledge their presence.
Cheney’s face, Nevada Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Kirsten Searer reported, could be seen through the tinted window of his limo.