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City gal meets Crawford roadkill

Suzanne Malveaux
Suzanne Malveaux  

By Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world.

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- It's just three turns and 30 minutes between my hotel in Waco and the Crawford elementary school where I file my reports on President Bush's whereabouts.

Each day in the early morning darkness my hands clutch the steering wheel tightly as I follow the narrow winding Route 185 that leads to the president's hometown of Crawford -- population 705.

It's difficult to see anything at this time of day, except for the occasional roadkill that tends to startle a city gal like me.

Covering the president in Crawford is much like my morning journey. News is hard to come by. I will likely not see the president. Only those events that startle the most jaded of journalists, the White House press corps, get much attention.

Take the recent flap over the president's guest list to his economic forum. What some networks feared would be a deadly dry television event has now been previewed as if it were a summer blockbuster movie.

Democratic lawmakers, who weren't invited to the forum, are crying foul. They say many of the 240 participants are big-time Bush campaign donors, which makes this forum nothing more than a public relations event.

They point to John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Glen Barton of Caterpillar Inc., and Charles Schwab of Charles Schwab Corp. -- all speakers who will lead discussions Tuesday who have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns.

The Bush administration is fighting back.

On Monday, White House aides emerged from behind a semi-transparent blue curtain in their makeshift office in the Crawford gym (reminiscent of the climactic scene in the "Wizard of Oz").

Spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration did not check for party affiliation or campaign contributions in selecting Tuesday's participants.

Correspondents, including myself, pushed for the press office to release the complete list of guests' names. Not long after, aides obliged.

Newspapers, radio and TV networks had been reporting the Democrats' complaints for close to two days.

McClellan said at least 43 of the forum participants contributed to Democratic campaigns.

Some of the biggest Democratic supporters include Clinton's former economic adviser Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, Penny Pritzker of Hyatt Hotels, Jerry Hood of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Jerry Yang of Yahoo, an Al Gore supporter.

And so a forum of what many would consider "policy wonks" is playing center stage Tuesday.

The White House plans wall-to-wall coverage of the president bouncing from one discussion group to another, talking to what McClellan called "240 working Americans."

The big question is, once the controversy subsides, once the metaphorical roadkill is cleared away, will anyone be interested?

No one is expected to crash this well-orchestrated event, or turn out to be a "party pooper."

And so Tuesday we'll see how successful the president will be in captivating the attention of the American people.




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