CANTON, Ohio — President Bush's schedule Friday provided a primer on the political calculations driving both sides in the waning days of the 2004 election, as he campaigned in the trio of major states that might determine the White House winner -- Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.
Barring a last-minute surge in support for either Bush or his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry, analysts say the race could be decided by which candidate wins two out of these three states.
In his speeches, Bush continued to assault Kerry on the two key issues Republicans think can convince undecided voters to back the president -- national security and taxes. Bush depicted Kerry as weak of fighting terrorism and as an advocate of raising taxes.
Kerry retorted that Bush had it wrong on both counts, saying the country needed a president "who defends America and who fights for the middle class at the same time."
The Democrat has said he would wage a smarter, more focused war on terrorists and pledged not to raise taxes on the middle or lower classes. To pay for a variety of programs he has proposed, Kerry would rescind Bush-backed tax cuts on families making more than $200,000 annually -- a move the GOP says amounts to a tax increase.
The Massachusetts senator campaigned in Wisconsin and Nevada, two of the other narrowing number of states viewed as up-for-grabs on Nov. 2.
At his Wisconsin event, he focused on shoring up his standing among women, in part because polls have shown they make up a disproportionately large share of the "persuadable" voters still wavering between him and Bush.
In the campaign's final days, appeals to women are one of Kerry's most important tasks: To win, he must offset Bush's strong advantage among men, strategists say.
Kerry charged that Bush neglected the economic needs of women, saying "no one in this White House understands the challenges" they faced.
Bush began his day speaking to a rally of about 11,000 supporters in a sports arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He reconfigured his campaign speech to emphasize his commitment to conservative social values, part of an effort to spur a large turnout among his core supporters.
"I will continue to reach out to Americans of every belief, and move this good-hearted nation toward a culture of life," the president said.
In discussing his opposition to abortion rights, Bush often says his aim is to promote "a culture of life" that emphasizes alternatives to ending unwanted pregnancies, such as use of adoptions.
Kerry has had a slight lead in most recent polls of Pennsylvania voters. But since he took office, Bush has targeted the state as a potential pickup among states he lost in the 2000 election. He has visited Pennsylvania during his presidency more than any other -- Friday's stop was his 41st there.
Bush derided Kerry as being "part of a far-left minority."
"My opponent has said that you can find the heart and soul of America in Hollywood," Bush said. "Most of us don't look to Hollywood as the source of values. The heart and soul of America is found right here in Wilkes-Barre."
The president was referring to comments made by Kerry at a fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in July headlined by top music acts and various Hollywood celebrities.
At the end of the program, which included vulgar comments about Bush, Kerry told the audience that "every single performer" had "conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country."
In visiting Ohio and Florida, Bush sought to stave off efforts by Kerry to snatch them from the president's 2000 victory column.
Friday's visit was Bush's first to Ohio in nearly three weeks, and it came amid polls showing the race a near tie in the state. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio.
"We always said Ohio would be close," said Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.
In an elegant theater in Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bush presided over a town hall-style discussion in which he blamed rising health costs on higher insurance caused by malpractice suits.
Though Ohio has been hard-hit by the decline in manufacturing jobs during Bush's administration, the president mentioned unemployment only briefly.
During September, Bush said, "The state of Ohio added 5,500 new jobs. Your unemployment rate dropped from 6.3% to 6%. We're moving forward," the president said.
Ohio did gain 5,500 jobs in September, but the state is still down 17,900 jobs from a year ago. And Ohio's unemployment rate is still above the national rate of 5.4%.
Bush has visited Florida four days in the last week, and plans to spend all day in the state today. Kerry, speaking to about 1,000 supporters at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, charged that Bush had ignored women's "sinking wages" and the rising costs of healthcare, gasoline and college tuition.
"No matter how tough it gets, no one in the White House seems to be listening," he said.