FAITH, N.C. — Looking for a political boost in a region Republicans have come to rely on, President Bush traveled to the South on Saturday to spend the Fourth of July campaigning at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida and a small-town picnic in North Carolina.
Bush was greeted at both stops by large crowds who responded enthusiastically as he extolled traditional American values--a theme that has come to dominate much of his reelection campaign in recent weeks.
In Faith, a shirt-sleeved President told thousands at the town's annual Independence Day celebration that "the values that you hold dear are the values that hold our entire country together."
He brushed aside suggestions that his visit to the community where a Ku Klux Klan rally was held last year indirectly condoned racism.
"Don't let anyone knock your town," Bush told his virtually all-white audience. "You stand with me against bigotry and against racism. . . . Carry those principles with you."
Bush ate barbecue at the picnic and played an inning of softball, filling in at first base and getting a single on his first and only swing.
"It's been a great big high of a day for me here, and this one is a picture postcard holiday setting. You've got it all, with the Little League and the softball games and the wheelbarrow races and the parade down Main Street."
The President added: "Not every place in America is like these wonderful towns, but its values can and should be."
Borrowing a page from Vice President Dan Quayle--who for several weeks has criticized a "cultural elite" he says is out of touch with the rest of the country--Bush attacked the entertainment industry for "films and the programs which mock small-town America."
The President also said: "I stand with the millions who support your America. And there's nothing wrong with a nation more like . . . Faith."
Earlier, during his visit to the Daytona Speedway, Bush paid tribute to veteran stock car driver Richard Petty on his final race at the speedway in this, his retirement year, and saluted the "family values, American traditional values" that he said the 100,000-plus fans at the event exemplified.
Bush's entourage announced its arrival in unusually spectacular fashion: Air Force One, the President's majestic jumbo jet, did a slow turn over the sprawling track complex, where thousands stood cheering on campers in the parking lots.
Once Bush was on the ground, the crowd roared when he gave the traditional order of "Gentlemen, start your engines," which set off the loud rumblings of 42 race car engines.
Bush then clambered into a white Pontiac that served as the pace car for the start of the 400-mile stock car race. He and two of his grandsons were driven twice around the track at speeds of 80 m.p.h. to 90 m.p.h.
The pace car was followed down the speedway by a gray van filled with Secret Service agents--a scene that drew laughter from the crowd.
"We've never seen that before at Daytona," said one fan who smiled and sipped from a can of beer.
The President's campaign trip clearly was aimed at solidifying his support in a region that has supplied Republican candidates with a solid base of electoral votes in virtually every recent presidential election.
But it is a region Bush cannot take for granted, given the nation's continuing economic woes as well as the Southern roots of Bush's two opponents, Democrat Bill Clinton of Arkansas and independent Ross Perot of Texas.
Bush's two appearances also allowed him to put his personal stamp on family-value issues that Quayle has been stressing.
The flap over the klan rally in Faith, whose 553 residents do not include a single black, threatened to undercut these efforts.
Kelly Alexander, president of the North Carolina NAACP, protested that Bush's decision to attend the town's picnic showed insensitivity on his part, particularly in the wake of the Los Angeles riots.
Mary Matalin, Bush's political director, said the visit resulted from an invitation from Republican Gov. James G. Martin and that no one on the White House or reelection staffs had been aware of the klan rally.
"If we checked out every place that ever had a march . . . we couldn't go to any place," Matalin said.
But a Bush campaign aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, conceded the campaign was embarrassed late last week by disclosures concerning the klan rally.
"We frankly didn't know about this," the aide said. "But having been invited by the governor and having accepted, we simply couldn't cancel at the last moment."
Faith Mayor Judith Hampton told reporters that her town hosted the klan rally because "we had to" to uphold the constitutional rights of klan members.
Following his Southern foray, Bush left late Saturday for Europe to attend an economic summit of the seven leading industrialized nations in Munich, Germany. White House aides said they hope to use the meeting, which begins Monday, to show Bush's global efforts to create jobs for Americans.