- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

ROSWELL, N.M. — President Bush appeared to dive headlong into campaign mode yesterday, bragging to a raucous crowd of supporters that “there is no hole deep enough” for terrorists to hide, then glad-handing potential voters during an impromptu stop at a small cafe.

White House spokesmen have insisted for weeks that Mr. Bush is still “loosening up” and is too busy with “the people’s business” to campaign for re-election. But yesterday’s appearance at the Roswell Convention Center had the look, feel and sound of a man on the stump.

Standing in front of a sign that read like a campaign slogan — “America: Confident and Strong” — Mr. Bush warned against trusting the presidency to those who don’t share his view of how to wage the war on terror.

“I knew that time would pass and people would take the comfortable position of saying the dangers have passed,” Mr. Bush said. “That’s just not reality. My job as your president is to be realistic, be open-eyed, to understand the lessons of September the 11; to understand that there’s still terrorists who plot against us.”

In visits to Ohio, Arizona and New Mexico this week, Mr. Bush expounded on the themes of Tuesday’s State of the Union address and made it clear that he will tout a growing economy and his successes in the war on terror to contrast himself with his Democratic rivals.

“People say, what are you doing in the long term?” Mr. Bush said, a reference to Democratic criticism that he didn’t plan well for postwar Iraq. “Free societies do not breed terrorism. Free societies are peaceful nations. What we are doing for the long term? We’re promoting freedom.”

Mr. Bush maintains that deposing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was an essential battle in the war on terrorism. Most of the Democrats running for their party’s nomination disagree, and argue that Mr. Bush should have received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council before invading Iraq.

The president insisted that he will “never seek a permission slip to defend the American people,” a line that drew hoots and applause from the crowd of 1,600 people, many of whom either serve in the military or attend a local military academy.

Polls show that a strong majority of Americans trust Mr. Bush more than Democrats to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. An Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll released this week showed that the war on terrorism is still the No. 1 issue going into the November election.

Mr. Bush said he would increase spending on homeland security by 9.7 percent, an attempt to blunt a frequent campaign-trail complaint by his Democratic rivals that the president hasn’t spent enough.

The Department of Justice would get an additional $2.6 billion, an increase of 19 percent over last year and a total that raises the overall funding for the FBI to $5.1 billion next year, a 60 percent increase since 2001.

The president received enthusiastic applause for nearly every topic he touched — with the exception of immigration. Mr. Bush explained that his plan to grant legal status to 8 million to 14 million illegal aliens through a temporary-worker program is good for Americans and Mexicans.

“I believe if we make the system open and honest, it will help stop the flow of illegal immigration,” Mr. Bush said. “It will make sure that those who are working to secure our borders will focus on the true threats to America — the illegal drugs, or the contraband, or the potential terrorists that could be coming across our borders.”

On his way out of Roswell yesterday, Mr. Bush made a surprise stop at the Nuthin’ Special Cafe on Main Street, where he shook hands with stunned patrons for about 20 minutes.

Mr. Bush lost New Mexico to Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race by just 366 votes.

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