- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

DALLAS — President Bush yesterday lifted off before dawn for a final 18-hour, 2,500-mile campaign blitz across the country, telling thousands of supporters “we’re coming down the stretch and I feel great.”

The president hit five of the nation’s battleground states — Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa and New Mexico — before ending his re-election campaign after midnight right where it all began, in Dallas.

“The finish line is in sight,” Mr. Bush told reporters near Pittsburgh. “I just want to assure you that I have the energy and the optimism and the enthusiasm to cross the line.”

Mr. Bush said he packed seven stops into the last day of the campaign because “I want to continue telling the people what I intend to do to protect them, and how I intend to put policies in place to make sure America is a hopeful place.”

The day started in Cincinnati, where the president boarded a helicopter for a short flight to nearby Wilmington, Ohio, looking none the worse for wear after a vigorous campaign — although aides said Mr. Bush was sucking on throat lozenges and had cut out caffeine to spare his voice.

Supporters began arriving at the airport rally at 2 a.m. on a wet, chilly day, but even that wasn’t early enough. Hundreds still were trapped in a traffic jam when Marine One touched down just outside an open hangar door — and right in front of the presidential plane as the theme song from “Air Force One” blared out of huge speakers.

Joining Mr. Bush onstage was World Series champion Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who voiced his support for the president last week and then was forced to cancel a planned appearance in New Hampshire when team owners — supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry — muzzled him.

The pitcher introduced Mr. Bush, saying, “Those troops deserve all of our support and all of our thanks. There’s something else we can do for them. We can make sure we elect the president, who supports them every step of the way.”

Mr. Bush, aware that no Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, declared: “I’m asking for your help, and there’s no doubt in my mind, with your help we will win Ohio again and win a great victory.”

The former Texas governor won Ohio in 2000, but the state has lost more than 200,000 jobs since then and the Kerry campaign long ago set its sights on Ohio’s 20 electoral votes.

After a quick stop in Burgettstown, Pa., Mr. Bush touched down before noon for his third rally, this one in Milwaukee, and again urged supporters to turn out at the polls — a factor many election analysts say could determine today’s election.

“It’s close to voting time, and I’m here to ask for your vote and your help: Get your friends and neighbors to go to the polls tomorrow,” the president told cheering supporters in Wisconsin. Before his arrival, country music duo Brooks and Dunn performed their hit that has become the theme of the campaign: “Only in America.”

Mr. Bush then jetted to Des Moines, Iowa, and nearby Sioux City before darting across the country to New Mexico, a state that he lost in the 2000 election by just 366 votes.

In a rainy Des Moines, Sen. Charles E. Grassley introduced the president, saying it is “one day until Iowa goes from being a blue state to being a red state.”

A crowd of nearly 10,000 supporters cheered Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush when they arrived at Southern Methodist University at nearly midnight EST. The president basked in applause for several minutes with his wife at his side, pointing at familiar faces in the crowd.

“We had to stop in Dallas,” Mrs. Bush said, noting that her husband kicked off his first gubernatorial run in the city.

The president was scheduled to arrive at his Prairie Chapel Ranch later and planned to vote early today at the fire department in Crawford, Texas.

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