Even before the balloons had stopped falling, President Bush hurried back to the campaign trail Friday to peddle the main message of his Republican convention speech: that he has the steadiest hand to guide the nation in perilous times.
Accepting his party’s nomination for a second term at the GOP convention in New York, Bush told roaring delegates and a national TV audience, “I believe this nation wants steady, consistent, principled leadership and that is why, with your help, we will win this election.”
Speaking from a circular stage emblazoned with the presidential seal, Bush asked voters to reject John Kerry’s “policies of the past.”
“We are on the path to the future — and we are not turning back,” Bush said, unveiling modest new proposals, including steps to tighten high-school testing, encourage investment in poor communities, reduce deficits and expand health care.
For his first post-convention stop, Bush chose the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where he has already visited 33 times. He was to speak at a rally at a minor-league ballpark near Scranton before making appearances at a convention center outside Milwaukee and a park in Iowa, signaling the breakneck pace he plans to keep until Nov. 2.
Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, said the president told him, “I want to come blowing out of the convention and get out there quickly to the country to demonstrate how committed I am to this campaign. I want to be able to wake up early in a battleground state and get at it.”
Bush marches into the last 60 days of the campaign locked in a close race with Kerry. America’s bitter political divide was even evident on the convention floor. When hecklers disrupted the president’s speech, the GOP delegates drowned them out with chants of “Four More Years!”
Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Manhattan during the convention as they denounced the president’s policies and the U.S. death toll in Iraq, which could reach 1,000 by Election Day.
Undaunted, Bush carried on with tough words for the Democrats, saying Kerry was running on a platform of raising taxes. “That’s the kind of promise a politician usually keeps,” he said.
His overarching message was security in a post-Sept. 11 world — an issue known all too well in New York.
“My fellow Americans, for as long as our country stands, people will look to the resurrection of New York City and they will say: ‘Here buildings fell, and here a nation rose,”’ Bush said.
Kerry wasted no time in rebutting Bush’s speech. At a rally in Ohio, Kerry called the president “unfit to lead this nation.”
“We’ll go out and talk with Americans in towns across Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan,” Kerry said. “And because a stronger America begins at home, we’ll talk about our plan to create jobs, cut taxes for the middle class, lower health care costs, and make America safer and more secure.”
In his address, Bush issued an array of proposals for a second-term:
- Social Security: Meet an unfulfilled 2000 campaign promise by letting younger workers save some of their taxes in a personal account — “a nest egg you can call your own, and government can never take away.”
- Economy: Create jobs by encouraging investment, curbing federal spending, cutting regulation and making tax cuts permanent. He vowed to expand trade, end frivolous lawsuits and simplify the tax code, which he described as a “complicated mess filled with special interest loopholes.” Create “opportunity zones” that would use tax incentives to spur investment in poor neighborhoods.
- Education: Require states to add two tests in reading and math in high school and provide money to help reward good teachers.
- Health care: Spend $1 billion to help children get coverage, and make sure a community health center is open in every poor community.