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DECATUR, Ala.--The anvil shooting contest at Wednesday's "Spirit of America" fest did not come off because of a lack of gun powder, but there were political fireworks aplenty as Senator Kennedy and Gov. Wallace tried to forge a union between the disparate elements of the Democratic Party.
Not that the two star-crossed politicians are ready to talk ticket-balancing yet, but the partisan Wallace crowd could not hide its excitement for the two men seated side by side on the platform.
"I think if they could get together on their issues they could landslide everything in '76," said a 48-year-old blue-collar worker from the Redstone arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., who had his family of six seated in the front row at Point Mallard.
"Lord knows, anything would be better than what we've got now," he said. "I'm just a blue-collar man, and I think Wallace is a good friend of the working man, and Kennedy is a union man too. All the men I work with think about the same way too."
The stage at the festival fairly gushed with declarations of national unity Wednesday evening, but the obstacles to the kind of unity the far-flung Democrats would like to achieve remain fairly imposing.
To begin with, any talk of a '76 ticket of Kennedy and Wallace immediately leads to the question: who will lead and who will follow?
The crowds at Point Mallard shoving and pushing through the red clay mud of north Alabama to get a glimpse of the Senator proved that Kennedy is not completely anathama to the South.
But many of those people straining to get the Massachusetts Democrat's picture or autograph will be very upset if their man, Wallace, does not head that magic ticket. One can only imagine what a Wallace-Kennedy ticket will look like to blacks in Roxbury.
Moreover, the weakness of Democratic unity, and even of national unity, was evident as much in what Kennedy did not say here as in what he did say.
Speaking at an event founded to oppose the antiwar movement which Kennedy has supported vigorously in the Senate since the mid-sixties, the senator had not a word to say on the war in Vietnam, or on the bloody bombing of Cambodia which President Nixon has stepped up no sooner than he could pledge to Congress not to do so.
Kennedy obviously feared that mention of the war would open the question of his own patriotism, a very open question in Decatur, Alabama. As long as northern politicans are afraid to discuss in the South what is on every tongue in their home states, talk of national unity will remain essentially empty.
But, one cannot help but believe that something more than national unity was on Senator Kennedy's mind in accepting the invitation to come to Decatur. Kennedy has not had a forum for drawing national attention since the election in November.
The senator has taken a back seat in the Watergate investigation (Chappaquiddick no doubt is still a painful memory) and the Senate floor has been an insufficient platform for the man who--more than McGovern, now heads the Democratic Party.
The spanking-new bandshell at Point Mallard Park gave Kennedy what he has not had for months, and what he will need if his name is to stay at the head of the '76 seedings, a place in the spotlight of national press attention.
A final note for those who may be wondering: An anvil shooting contest involves placing one anvil atop another, with black powder in between, and setting a fuse to the powder.
The object is to see who can shoot his 200-pound anvil the furthest. As one man in the Decatur crowd said, all these politicians were fine with him, but he sure hated to miss the anvil shooting.
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