Photo by Jack Gould

Okay, so what if Los Angeles lacks the swing-voter clout of Davenport, Iowa? Last week, Southern California, too, got the same-day treatment from the candidates, which sparked a first-rate mano a mano between the faithful.

While John Kerry appeared unchallenged at Cal State Dominguez Hills, zealots faced off at the intersection of Ocean Park Boulevard and 31st Street in Santa Monica, just one block north of Santa Monica airport, where George W. Bush was appearing at a dinner that put a cool $3 million in his war chest.

And political artifice mirrored political reality: The outcome was too close to call, though it seemed more impressive somehow for more than 500 Bushies to turn out in this left-coast bastion, even if at least as many anti-Bushes had gathered, too.

Bush man Ron Smith had been preparing since early July, arriving at noon to stake out the intersection. “We had both corners,” said the white-haired Smith, who sells cars on the Internet. When the enemy arrived, “There was a confrontation. And I personally went over there and got all of our people off that side, because that was our deal with the police. They have one side; we have the other.”

Facing north, it was Bush people to the right, anti-Bushes to the left. The veritable standoff had Genevieve Peters beaming. The 41-year-old teacher and Beverly Hills resident founded L.A. for Bush. “It started out with eight people around a table, and it’s grown to hundreds — hundreds and hundreds,” said Peters. Democrats, she explained, “stand for hate and for vengeance and a globalization that has no strength or character or anything that’s for America. America, from the beginning of time, had an identity and culture. And they’re trying to decimate our identity and culture . . . to some melting pot like Europe.”

She added, “Democrats have gone in and said, ‘We’re just all one. Every culture has a place here.’ No! We’re an American culture.”

It was hard to hear over the amplified voice of a Bushie in a black hat. “On the other corner, I see dreadlocks and hippies,” he said mockingly, “and I see girlie men.” That started a chant of “girlie men, girlie men” from the street’s right wing. Next to Black Hat stood an elderly Vietnamese man dressed in green beret and camouflage. He held an American flag in his right hand, the yellow-and-red flag of South Vietnam in his left. A Bush-Cheney sign hung around his neck. He pumped his black-booted heel up and down in time to patriotic tunes and redneck rock blasting from a boom box. Nearby, a blind young man sang out, “You can’t take away my Bush.”

Black Hat wasn’t quite right about the dreads; his side included homeless activist Ted Hayes, whose dreads equal anyone’s. He had an amplified bullhorn in one hand and a genuine, polished ram’s horn in the other as he improvised chants. “Power to the right-wingers!” he shouted into the bullhorn, and, “We’re right and you’re wrong!”

From behind Hayes, Chuck Alio, of Long Beach, suddenly realized, “They don’t have one American flag over there.” Hayes had one around his neck and another made into the trousers he wore.

Alio added, “They say war is not the answer, but I ask them, ‘What is the answer? And what is the question?’”

On the left side, the message was mixed, and there was internal conflict, because anti-Bush didn’t necessarily mean pro-Kerry. “You guys are helping Bush,” shot one Kerry supporter at 28-year-old Karl, who was hawking papers for the International Socialist Organization.

Karl shouted right back, “We are helping build anti-imperialism in this country. Where does Kerry get all his money?” Karl was calm and polite moments later, when he likened the election to the movie Alien vs. Predator.

“There’s no question that the alien is Bush,” said Karl, who supports Ralph Nader. “Just a slobbering monster. But the predator, that’s Kerry. He’s a chameleon, who actually has a strategy and who’s able to fool people into thinking he’s something that he’s not. Whoever wins, we lose.”

As he spoke, chanters began with “Occupation is a crime . . . from Iraq to Palestine.” Passing out fliers was a woman in a long gingham skirt and a longer white slip underneath. She had the button “Smash the State” pinned to the black-net handbag that held her water bottle.

Blase Bonpane, a Green, said he wouldn’t go Nader this time. He takes the long view — really long when it comes to the Electoral College. “From day one, there was a disrespect for the people. The founders were afraid of what they called mob rule, and that has given us two very unfortunate presidents” — that is, presidents who gained office despite losing the popular vote.

So what was so bad about Rutherford B. Hayes?

After the Civil War, said Bonpane, “Hayes agreed in a smoke-filled room to take the Yankee troops out of the South. And that led to the Jim Crow years, almost like there hadn’t been a Civil War.”

George Bush, Bonpane added, is even worse.

Bonpane’s cool logic, however, was no match for the charisma of the Radical Teen Cheer kids, with their short skirts, tight pants and red tees with a black star:

“Hey, Bush! Who fights your wars? Just minorities and the poor.

“The CIA kills people, yeah, for corporations, yeah, they just want more.”

The hope on both sides was that the Bush motorcade would pass by.

It didn’t.

Which one Bush blond decided was just as well, even if this was a neighborhood of lattes and near-million-dollar homes. “It doesn’t look safe here for him,” she said, glancing nervously around her. “This neighborhood is not safe.”

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