PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — President Bush, buoyed by nationwide polls showing that he has opened up a double-digit lead over his opponent, yesterday urged Democrats and independents to abandon Sen. John Kerry and support the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Although there were no Kerry signs in a throng of more than 10,000 people gathered on a high school football field, the president said, “There’s a lot of Democrats here in the crowd, and I want to thank you all for coming.”
“See, my message is for everybody. A safer, stronger, better America is for every citizen in this country,” Mr. Bush said to thunderous applause.
Noting that the keynote speaker at last week’s Republican National Convention in New York City was a Democrat — Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, who held the same role 12 years ago at the Democratic National Convention — the president said Democrats should follow Mr. Miller’s lead and switch to the Republican Party.
“I think old Zell Miller set a pretty good tempo for Democrats all across the country. He made clear it’s all right to come and support the Bush ticket. So if you’re a Democrat and you’re here, welcome. If you’re an independent and you’re here, welcome,” Mr. Bush said to more cheers and chants of “Four More Years.”
Yesterday’s stop was his second in four months to a region that gave Mr. Bush an 8,000-vote edge over Democrat Al Gore in 2000, his largest margin in the state. The president has made 14 visits to the state since taking office in an effort to again win West Virginia, which he took last time 52 percent to 46 percent.
But he has his work cut out for him: Although state polls show the state leaning toward Mr. Bush, Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration over Republicans, and both U.S. senators are Democrats.
“It seems like I’m making a habit coming here. It ought to be clear to the people of this state that I want to carry West Virginia again,” Mr. Bush told the Parkersburg crowd.
The latest national polls indicate that Mr. Bush has opened a commanding lead over Mr. Kerry. Time magazine reported Friday that the president leads Mr. Kerry 52 percent to 41 percent, while Newsweek put the lead at 54 percent to 43 percent. Both polls have an error margin of four percentage points.
In West Virginia, Mr. Bush ran through his standard stump speech, opening with his plans for the economy and ticking off his domestic agenda. But in the Republican stronghold of Parkersburg, he hammered home more conservative aspects of his administration, declaring his support for the unborn and faith-based charities while espousing opposition to homosexual “marriage” and activist judges.
“Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support protection of marriage against activist judges,” he said from the 50-yard line of the football field. “I will continue to appoint federal judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law.”
Mr. Kerry took the day off from campaigning yesterday to spend the day at his wife’s estate in Fox Chapel, Pa., where he celebrated the 31st birthday of daughter Alexandra. He travels to West Virginia today.
Mr. Bush hits the road again today on a two-day trip, stopping in five cities in Missouri, a swing state. Although Mr. Bush has no public schedule for Wednesday or Thursday, he likely will go to Florida to offer support for victims of Hurricane Frances. On Friday, he is back in West Virginia and Ohio.
On the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the president is scheduled to attend a prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, and at 8:46 a.m. — the minute that the first plane struck the first World Trade Center tower — he will join first lady Laura Bush on the White House South Lawn to observe a moment of silence.
Charles Hurt contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.