Comedians' pre-election rally throngs Washington
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two of America's best-known television comedians drew tens of thousands of people to a rally on Saturday that was part variety show, part Halloween celebration and part political rally to call for common sense before Tuesday's congressional elections.
Satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, hosts of late-night cable TV shows, poked fun at politicians and media for stoking partisan fervor.
Performing in front of the U.S. Capitol building, the pair were joined by crooner Tony Bennett, rocker Ozzy Osbourne, singer Sheryl Crow, and British musician Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, who was refused entry to the United States in 2004 for alleged ties to Islamic extremism.
In a moment of seriousness, Stewart said Americans were more united than the media made out.
"We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate. The truth is, we work together to get things done every damn day."
U.S. voters will choose a new Congress and governors in Tuesday's elections after months of bitter campaigning.
Republicans are predicted to take control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats, due partly to discontent over the high unemployment rate.
The rise of the conservative Tea Party movement, many of whom are Republicans, has heated up the political atmosphere.
COMEDIANS AND POLITICIANS
Many in Saturday's exuberant crowd sported Halloween costumes and some carried signs with quirky political messages. One placard read: "It's a sad day when our politicians are comical and I have to take our comedians seriously."
Some of the others said: "Green Tea Party," "In reason we trust," and "Government is Awesome."
Rojas and Vicki Metcalf, political independents from Annapolis, Maryland, said they came to the rally because they were tired of the vicious discourse in Washington.
"Things have gotten really really, really out of hand," Rojas Metcalf said. "We don't think anybody's a communist. There's just too much anger. There doesn't have to be so much anger."
Stewart and Colbert, hosts on the Comedy Central channel, often target Washington and its politicians in their mock newscasts. They avoided overt references to political positions at the rally although they are seen as liberal.
Andrew Breitbart, a right-wing activist and blogger, said the rally typified the liberal media's disdain for ordinary Americans.
"It's very motivating for conservatives to have that stereotyped group of Manhattan elitists, know-it-alls, snarky, smarmy liberals to be looking down on average Americans."
Local authorities declined to offer estimates of crowd turnout for the comedians' "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," which Colbert and Stewart have been promoting on their late night "faux" news programs for weeks.
The rally drew huge crowds to Washington, overloading the subway system and flooding The National Mall and downtown area, where many museums and government buildings are located.
Satellite rallies were staged in other U.S. cities. A Seattle event drew more than 4,000 attendees to the city's downtown Westlake Park, said organizer Jim Baum. About 1,000 people attended a satellite event at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, said police Lieutenant Wes Buhrmester.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder and Doina Chiacu; editing by Christopher Wilson)
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