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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Bush Explains Vision for Security and Opportunity

'We are staying on the offensive' against terrorists, he tells the convention. He pledges to transform federal social programs.

September 03, 2004|Mark Z. Barabak and Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Staking his claim to a second term, President Bush on Thursday night joined the GOP convention assault on rival John F. Kerry and promised to "build a safer world and a more hopeful America" over the next four years.

In a speech accepting the Republican nomination and wrapping up the four-day gathering, Bush spelled out his vision of an entrepreneurial "ownership society" and expansive U.S. foreign policy leading "the cause of freedom in a new century."

The president spoke at greatest length about his efforts to prevent another attack like the one a few miles from where he spoke, which killed nearly 2,800 people in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

"We are staying on the offensive -- striking terrorists abroad -- so we do not have to face them here at home," Bush said. "We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America and nothing will hold us back."

Speaking to millions of Americans worried about their jobs and their children's futures -- and addressing perhaps his greatest political vulnerability -- the president also pledged to simplify the federal tax code, expand the availability of healthcare and reform the nation's pension and worker training programs.

"In all these proposals, we seek to provide not just a government program but a path -- a path to greater opportunity, more freedom and more control over your own life," Bush said.

"We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared -- and thus truly free -- to make your own choices and pursue your own dreams," he said, reviving the "compassionate conservative" philosophy that was the template of his 2000 campaign.

Bush's acceptance speech at Madison Square Garden was seen by fellow Republicans as vital to his reelection hopes, a fact reflected by the 30-plus revisions the address underwent.

In a presidential race that has been essentially deadlocked for six months, the prime-time address gave Bush an opportunity to appear unfiltered before an audience of millions -- the last such chance he may have before November.

Once he finished, Bush wasted no time leaving New York -- a state that is politically out of reach -- for the campaign battleground of Pennsylvania.

Today, the president is scheduled to address three rallies, starting in Moosic, Pa., then heading to Wisconsin and Iowa, before spending the night in Ohio, perhaps the most critical swing state of the election.

Kerry planned to greet him with the first wave of a nationwide blitz of TV advertising, a 30-second spot that notes the loss of 230,000 Ohio jobs under Bush and a tagline declaring, "We know America can do better."

The Massachusetts senator planned to spend the next two days in Ohio -- historically a must-win for Republicans -- while his running mate, John Edwards, and the men's wives head out on separate bus tours across the Midwest.

Both sides were eagerly awaiting today's Labor Department release of August employment numbers, which could go a long way toward framing the economic debate over the next several weeks.

Bush said Thursday night that Kerry would raise taxes as president and scoffed at his opponent's claim to possess conservative values.

At a New York fundraiser this summer that featured musicians, actors and comedians -- and a display of raunchy humor -- Kerry had said that the performers conveyed "the heart and soul of our country."

"If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I'm afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values," Bush said Thursday night.

Bush noted Kerry and Edwards had voted to support giving the president the authority to invade Iraq and -- without using the word -- cast his opponent as a serial flip-flopper.

Like others throughout the week, he cited Kerry's vote last fall against an $87-billion appropriation for reconstruction and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerry earlier had voted for an alternative $87-billion bill that would have financed some of the spending by increasing the taxes of the wealthiest Americans.

"When asked to explain his vote, the senator said, 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,' " Bush said to laughter from the crowd.

"Then he said he was 'proud' of that vote. Then, when pressed, he said it was a 'complicated' matter. There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat."

Kerry struck back almost immediately, appearing at a midnight rally in Springfield, Ohio.

"We all saw the anger and distortion of the Republican convention," Kerry said. "For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief. Well here's my answer: I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq."

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