COLUMBUS, Ohio — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday joined President Bush on the campaign trail, telling 23,000 cheering supporters he had come “for the most important reason of all: Today I am here to pump you up to re-elect George W. Bush.”
The former bodybuilder and Hollywood actor took the stage with the president and first lady at the end of a barnstorming day, with Mr. Bush making four stops in the swing states of New Hampshire and Ohio as the campaign ticked down to under 100 hours.
Speaking just hours after al Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden derided the president and threatened Americans in a new videotape, Mr. Schwarzenegger said there can be no reasoning with “people that are blinded by hate.”
“But let me tell you something, their hate is no match for America’s decency, and it is no match for the resolve and leadership of George W. Bush,” he said to deafening cheers from supporters packed to the rafters.
“I’m here to tell you you are the powerlifters for progress,” he said. “If you flex your muscles November 2, I guarantee you, President Bush will be back,” the former actor declared, borrowing a line from one of his films. “I am asking for your vote.”
Earlier in the day, in Manchester, N.H., Mr. Bush campaigned with the support of widows and relatives of Americans killed on September 11. “So long as I’m your president, we will not be held captive by fear,” he vowed.
Delivering his first speech in weeks in which he neither named Sen. John Kerry nor derided Mr. Kerry’s Senate record, Mr. Bush asserted that he is the best qualified candidate to protect the nation as president.
“As long as I am the president, we will be determined and steadfast and we will keep the terrorists on the run,” Mr. Bush told thousands of cheering supporters packed into a hockey arena.
“As long as I’m your president, this nation will stand for freedom, and stand by our friends and never cut and run.”
Mr. Bush, who yesterday morning first heard about the bin Laden tape, warned that terrorists will try to derail the U.S.-led war on terror.
“As we fight the terrorists, they will try to frighten us, they will test our will with their barbaric tactics. We must be resolved. So long as I’m your president, we will not be held captive by fear,” he said to cheers.
Among the family members of September 11 victims on the stage were Cheryl McGuinness, Debra Burlingame and Elizabeth Kovalcin, each of whom lost a husband when the planes they were on crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. Also joining the president at the rally was the father of Todd Beamer, who was on board the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania after Mr. Beamer led an assault on the hijackers in the plane’s cockpit.
“Todd Beamer and other passengers on Flight 93 rushed those hijackers and led the first counterattack in the war on terror,” Mr. Bush said. “Todd’s final words captured the spirit of a nation. He said a prayer, and then he said, ‘Let’s roll.’”
Of the three widows, the president said they “have shown that hope can be found, even in the worst tragedy. Cheryl says this: ‘While those terrorists may have killed almost 3,000 of our husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children and friends, on that day, they did not take away our spirit, our hope, or the promise of tomorrow.’
“There is hope beyond the ashes of September the 11th and nobody can take that away from us,” the president said to thunderous applause.
Although Mr. Bush did not criticize Mr. Kerry, Mrs. Kovalcin said after the speech that the Democrat does not possess the moral strength to be president.
“I don’t see in Kerry a person who will do what is necessary without bending to the will of others,” she said. “I don’t think Kerry has the guts to do what needs to be done.”
Mrs. Kovalcin met briefly backstage with the president, who asked to see pictures of her daughters. “I have complete faith and trust in the president. I’d put my children’s life in his hands. I don’t think there’s any other person who can do the job,” she said, adding that she volunteered to appear for the Bush campaign.
Although the crowd of 7,000 was peppered with people wearing Boston Red Sox hats and holding signs that said “Red Sox Fans For Bush,” pitcher Curt Schilling, who had been scheduled to introduce the president after he declared his support in a nationally televised appearance, did not appear.
The star pitcher released a statement in which he “did vote for him with an absentee ballot,” but added that “speaking as I did the other day was wrong.”
“While I hope to see him re-elected, it’s not my place, nor the time for me to offer up my political opinions unsolicited,” Mr. Schilling said. A local Boston Web site said owners of the Red Sox had pressured the pitcher to make the statement and withdraw from the campaign rally.
With less than 100 hours to go before polls close on Election Day, the Bush campaign planned more than a dozen stops from Ohio to New Mexico and back again.
Mr. Bush made a second stop in New Hampshire at a rally in Portsmouth. There, he said Tuesday’s election “comes down to clear choices for our families, issues of great consequence.”
The president also sought to sway moderate Democrats to support him. “Many Democrats in this country do not recognize their party anymore,” he said. “If you believe that America should lead with strength and purpose and confidence in our ideals, I would be honored to have your support, and I am asking for your vote.”