- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 24, 2004

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — President Bush hopscotched through Florida yesterday in a campaign swing that rallied nearly 100,000 partisans as he accused Sen. John Kerry of “election amnesia” regarding the Iraq war.

Mr. Bush kicked off his day at a minor league baseball stadium in Fort Myers, where he arrived aboard Marine One and landed in left field to the thrill of the 12,000 supporters in attendance. He emerged from the helicopter to cheers, while music from the Navy pilot movie “Top Gun” blared from the loudspeakers.

After stops in Lakeland in front of 13,000 people and Melbourne for 18,000, Mr. Bush ended his day at Alltel Stadium, home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, before 53,000 supporters, many of whom waited more than three hours to hear his 50-minute speech.

“The senator used to recognize that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat who hated America. After all, he said so,” Mr. Bush said of the deposed Iraqi dictator. “He used to recognize that Saddam was a state sponsor of terror with a history of pursuing and even using weapons of mass destruction. After all, he said so. He used to understand that Saddam was a major source of instability in the Middle East. After all, he said so.

“And when he voted to authorize force, the senator must have recognized the nightmare scenario that terrorists might somehow access weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “Senator Kerry seems to have forgotten all of that, as his position has evolved during the course of the campaign. You might call it election amnesia.”

The president pushed the drama up a notch before his last rally, when he directed Air Force One to fly directly over the stadium to thrill the crowds he’s counting on to deliver Florida’s 27 Electoral College votes, the most among states still considered to be in play.

According to most recent polls, Mr. Bush can go a long way toward re-election by capturing the Sunshine State again. His contested 537-vote victory out of 5 million ballots cast in 2000 put him instead of Vice President Al Gore in the White House.

The purpose of Mr. Bush’s pushing the Massachusetts senator’s inconsistencies is to appeal to swing voters by blunting the Democrats’ attacks on the war, campaign aides said. But the main reason for this trip around the state was to pump up the faithful.

The president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, urged supporters to work hard for the Bush-Cheney ticket.

“This rally is about motivating the troops, to go out and work a little bit harder, just a little bit more, make a few more phone calls, knock on a few more doors,” the governor said in Fort Myers.

Barbara Ackerman of nearby Ponte Verde Beach said she hasn’t gotten “deeply involved” in politics before, but was impressed by the rally yesterday and will try to help turn out the Republican vote.

“It was too close last time,” said Mrs. Ackerman, “but with what’s at stake now, it’s even more important to make sure he gets back in there.”

Mr. Bush has been shown to be leading in seven of the past 10 polls taken in Florida. Mr. Kerry is on top twice. The latest poll, however, released by Quinnipiac University late last week, gives Mr. Bush a narrow 48 percent to 47 percent lead.

Mr. Kerry, campaigning yesterday in Colorado, accused the president of botching the Iraq war and distracting from the hunt for al Qaeda terrorist leaders in Afghanistan.

“Osama bin Laden just walked out the back door,” Mr. Kerry said.

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer also hit back at the president, picking up on his new “election amnesia” line.

“As much as we’d all like to forget the last four years of George Bush’s failed policies and wrong choices, voters aren’t going to have amnesia when it comes time to vote on Election Day,” Mr. Singer said.

Mr. Bush also continues to paint Mr. Kerry as an out-of-the-mainstream liberal.

“We both have records,” Mr. Bush said, describing himself — as he did in 2000 — as a “compassionate conservative.”

“I’m running on my record. Senator Kerry is running from his record.”

Both candidates yesterday used their weekly radio addresses to make campaign pitches. Mr. Bush lauded the September 11 commission’s investigation into the government’s failures to foresee the attacks and urged Congress to pass many of its recommended reforms. Mr. Kerry, in his address, criticized the president for what he described as stagnant job growth.

Mr. Bush usually takes Sunday off from the campaign trail, but will attend a rally in New Mexico today after spending last night at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. He then will spend the next several days shoring up support in the key heartland states of Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“This trip was about getting back up four or five points in Florida, then heading out to take care of the Midwest,” said a Bush campaign official, who requested anonymity. “He may come back here. He might not. Everything is [to be determined] in the last week.”



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