Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Kerry pops in for visit

County Democrats thanked for their campaign support

Express Staff Writer

Sen. John Kerry and Blaine County Democrats chair Betty Murphy

The Blaine County Democrats got an unexpected early Christmas present at their Dec. 14 meeting when Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., popped in for about 45 minutes of socializing and party cheerleading.

"That was terrific," said Betty Murphy, the Blaine County Democrats chair. "This was a wonderful Christmas present for us, a wonderful surprise."

Kerry, the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nominee, and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, have a vacation home north of Ketchum. Their two pre-election visits to the Wood River Valley were highly publicized affairs.

To be sure, Kerry is not as inconspicuous as he was prior to his bid for the White House, but this year's Christmas visit to the Wood River Valley is probably a bit of a return to normalcy.

"He was very upbeat. He looked good. He looked rested," Murphy said. "He walked in. We just stood up and applauded."

When the Kerrys visited last spring, an entourage of reporters and Secret Service agents accompanied them. In August, they visited for a few days between campaign stops in Oregon and Ohio. Last week, Kerry sauntered into the Democratic meeting at the Ski and Heritage Museum in Ketchum accompanied by only one security agent, a vast difference from his pre-election security suite.

About 35 local Democrats enjoyed the unexpected visit, Murphy said.

"He thanked us, mostly, for all our hard work," Murphy said. "He said we need to regroup and stay involved and informed and keep working toward 2008. We were all just really surprised and thrilled. It meant a lot. It really did."

During the couple's August layover, they took a few minutes to answer, in writing, some light questions about their connections to the Wood River Valley.

Heinz Kerry has a longer history in Ketchum than her husband. She has spent time here since 1966, the year she married her late-husband, Sen. John Heinz III, a Republican from Pennsylvania. The couple built their home north of Ketchum in 1987.

"My late husband had come since he was a tot—and his parents before him," Heinz Kerry wrote. "Let's say, 'I had no choice!' Sun Valley and Ketchum, besides the wonderful memories, has afforded us a place where the idea of family continues to be at the top."

She said sports and personal well being are part of daily life here, and said she is appreciative of the lasting friendships she has formed with local residents.

"It is a very comforting, beautiful and serene place for me and my family," Heinz Kerry said.

Heinz Kerry is respected locally for her philanthropy. She gave $750,000 to help upgrade emergency services in the area and $325,000 to help Blaine County buy Galena Lodge, a popular north-valley cross-country ski lodge.

Sen. Kerry, who answered questions with considerably more brevity than his wife, said he typically visits the Wood River Valley about twice each year, and almost always at Christmas.

Kerry said he has not spent much time here during the summer, but said he has been to Pettit and Baker lakes, as well as on hikes in Lake Creek.

"I love to hike up along Hyndman Peak. There are great wildflowers," he wrote, but added that most of vacations are in the winter and include recreation time spent snowboarding, skiing and playing ice hockey.

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