- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

MIAMI — President Bush yesterday made a mad dash from one end of Florida to the other, telling tens of thousands of voters that if they “believe America should fight the war on terror with all our might and lead with unwavering confidence in our ideals, I ask you, come stand with me.”

The president’s furious pace marked the end of a bitter, closely fought campaign, with most polls showing the race nearly even, though a Newsweek poll showed the president with a six-point margin and the Associated Press reported that some Democratic strategists said the momentum seemed to be with the president.

Making his last stop before Election Day in the tossup state with the largest electoral-vote prize — 27 votes — the president debuted his “Come stand with me” slogan as he made his final pitch to Florida’s large Cuban-American population.

“If you believe that this nation should honor family and marriage and make a place for the weak and vulnerable, I ask you, come stand with me,” he said. “If you are a Democrat who believes your great party has turned too far left … I ask you, come stand with me.

“If you are a minority citizen and you believe in free enterprise and good schools and the enduring values of family and faith, if you’re tired of your vote being taken for granted, I ask you, come stand with me.”

Mr. Bush also said, “If you are a voter who believes that the president of the United States should say what he means and do what he says and keep his word, I ask you, come stand with me.”

Hours later, as the president’s long campaign day ended in Ohio, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top adviser, made a confident prediction to reporters: “We’re going to win. We will win Florida and Ohio. We will take at least two or three or four states won by Gore in the last election.”

Cuban-Americans heavily voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and helped put Florida in his column.

“Over the next four years, we will continue to press hard and ensure that the gift of freedom finally reaches the men and women of Cuba,” he said as thousands of Cuban immigrants packed into a Miami expo center cheered, “Viva Bush! Viva Bush! Viva Bush!”

“We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedoms in Havana they receive here in America. I strongly believe the people of Cuba should be free from the tyrant,” he said, referring to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, drawing thunderous applause from the crowd of more than 8,000.

Mr. Rove made clear the campaign’s mission when he disembarked from Air Force One and shouted, “Cuba Libre!”

Four years ago, Mr. Bush capitalized on bitter feelings engendered by the Clinton-Gore administration, which made little effort to punish Mr. Castro and alienated Cuban-Americans by returning 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez — whose mother died bringing him to America aboard a small boat — to the communist island.

“I believe that everybody yearns to be free. Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world,” said Mr. Bush, who peppered his speech with Spanish phrases.

The president began his day attending a Roman Catholic worship service in Miami, an indirect appeal to Hispanic voters in Florida, many of whom are Catholic.

The Rev. Jude O’Doherty, who led the service at the Church of the Epiphany, the home church of Mr. Bush’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, praised the president from the pulpit. “Mr. President, I want you to know that I admire your faith and your courage to profess it,” he said. He also thanked Mr. Bush for his “wholehearted support of human life” and for supporting the partial-birth abortion ban, and the parishioners applauded.

In his Miami speech, the president castigated his opponent for repeatedly altering his position on the day’s most pressing issues, saying the Massachusetts senator has won a place in “the flip-flop hall of fame.”

Mr. Bush ridiculed Mr. Kerry’s remark that he “actually did vote for the $87 billion right before [he] voted against it,” a reference to a congressional bill to fund troops in Afghanistan and Iraq — a vote only four senators opposed.

“He’s given several explanation since then, but the most revealing — perhaps the most revealing — is when he said, the whole thing was a complicated matter. There’s nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat,” Mr. Bush said.

Employing a line he has used in the waning days of the campaign, the president said, “Ultimately, this election comes down to: Who can you trust?”

“My fellow citizens, these are historic times, and a lot is at stake in this election. The future safety and prosperity of America are on the ballot.”

Nearly 2 million people have already voted in Florida, a sign the Kerry campaign said points to a strong showing by their candidate.

“You don’t see long lines like that of people voting for four more years of the same,” Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said.

After his stop in Miami, Mr. Bush headed to the New York Yankees’ spring-training facility in Tampa, in a county the president lost in 2000 by three percentage points.

There, he was introduced by retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who said Democrats “have no plan whatsoever for combating global terrorism” and “have no leadership whatsoever.”

“We do have a leader,” the general told a baseball stadium filled with more than 18,000 supporters, “and that leader knows how to go about defeating terrorism.”

Mr. Bush then held another campaign rally at an airport in Gainesville in Alachua County, which he lost in 2000 by 13,245 votes, or 15 percentage points. He then flew to Ohio for an evening rally in Cincinnati, where he was introduced to 45,000 cheering supporters by Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, who called the president “the man I want giving the signals for our country.”

Today, the president sprints to seven stops: Wilmington, Ohio; Burgettstown, Pa.; Milwaukee; Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa; Albuquerque, N.M.; and a final rally in Dallas.

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