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New Western White House in Idaho? - 2004-08-29

Crawford, Texas; Hyannisport, Massachusetts; Warm Springs, Georgia. For the nation's chief executives, there's no place like a family retreat to really get away from the pressures of Washington. For years, John Kerry and his family have headed to Sun Valley, Idaho when they wanted some rest and recreation and that's unlikely to change if he wins the presidency in November. Year-round residents of this upscale vacation community are grappling with what it would mean if their town became the next 'Western White House.'

Nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains and accessible by only one North-South route, the fashionable village of Ketchum, Idaho is better known by the name of the adjacent ski resort, Sun Valley. It's hardly a well-kept secret. But a mixture of isolation and sky-high prices make the community unique here in Idaho. It's known for cosmopolitan sophistication in a state otherwise known for rugged individualism and conservative values.

"It's just a fabulous place to live, a cultural oasis surrounded by a cultural desert," says Gary Hunt, owner of Iconoclast Books on Main Street. Like most of the business owners here, he makes a point of being unimpressed by wealth and celebrity. Hollywood stars Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and Jamie Lee Curtis all hang out here. California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger is a frequent visitor and they come, in part, because Sun Valley prides itself on being a low-key refuge for the famous and powerful. John Kerry became a fixture here when he married Teresa Heinz, who's been one of the locals since the 1960s.

"When you see him on a hill snowboarding, you don't stare. You just continue on and get a good powder run in," says Mr. Hunt.

Senator Kerry can still come here to be just Citizen Kerry. But a President Kerry, that would bring something altogether different to Ketchum, according to its mayor, Ed Simon. "Obviously when someone is running for the presidency of the United States, it really changes your perspective toward them and also the effect that it could have on the community," he says.

In a place where no one is accompanied by an entourage, Mayor Simon says it's hard to miss a motorcade and the Secret Service and scores of reporters. "I've heard some people say, 'I've been a lifelong Democrat, but I don't want I don't want it to change the nature of the community.' Obviously, if the President's in town, things stop where he is, and that includes traffic and everything else," he says.

The area around Ketchum was the only part of this heavily Republican state that gave its votes to Al Gore in the 2000 election. And most political observers agree, there's no question the state as a whole will support President Bush in November.

Nonetheless, a Kerry candidacy brings greater national visibility to Idaho, and that could help its image, according to State house minority leader and Sun Valley area resident Wendy Jaquet. "I think it would be good for Idaho. One of the things that people in our state are really concerned about is that, people that are in national politics don't understand the issues of the inner mountain west. John Kerry's been here enough and certainly Teresa has been here for years and they understand the values, the kinds of things that our families really care about," she says.

Whether or not the next Western White House is here in Sun Valley, this is a place where extraordinary political encounters are already perfectly ordinary.