updated 9/1/2004 7:11:02 PM ET 2004-09-01T23:11:02

President Bush drew the endorsement of a New York City firefighters union Wednesday, a reminder to voters of the Sept. 11 attacks that he has made a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

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After a quick stop for a campaign rally in Ohio, his 23rd visit to the state, Bush was headed for New York City where he will accept the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night. First, he was collecting the endorsement of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York on Wednesday night.

At a community center for Italian-Americans, Bush planned to visit with some of the firefighters, who became symbols of the heroism of Sept. 11, 2001.

The endorsement was meant as an answer to Democratic challenger John Kerry, who has the support of nearly all of organized labor. The largest firefighters union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, endorsed Kerry a year ago during the Democratic presidential primaries, and its representatives often attend his events.

Like Bush’s campaign ads, the Republican convention has been heavy with reminders of the terrorist attacks south of Madison Square Garden, where the Republican convention is under way. On Monday night at the convention, two Sept. 11 widows and the brother of a victim told their personal stories.

Bush closed his campaign speech at the Ohio rally with a vignette that is a staple of his stump speech but one that had special resonance as he prepared to fly to New York.

“None of us will ever forget that week when one era ended and another began,” Bush said. “Sept. 14, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. It’s a day I will never forget.”

“Since that day I have a duty that has gone on. I wake up every morning trying to figure out how best to protect our country,” he said.

His audience at the Nationwide Arena roared its approval. As Bush left, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared from loudspeakers.

Outside, about 200 protesters chanted “No more Bush!”

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