MARQUETTE, Mich. — President Bush yesterday kicked off a two-day campaign swing through three Midwest battleground states, challenging Sen. John Kerry’s claim to be the one presidential candidate on the November ballot with “conservative values.”
“Senator Kerry is rated as the most liberal member of the United States Senate, and he chose a fellow lawyer, who is the fourth most liberal member of the United States Senate,” the president told more than 10,000 supporters packed into a sweltering football arena at Northern Michigan University.
“Back in Massachusetts, that’s what they call balancing the ticket,” he said to laughter and cheers from the crowd, many waving American flags.
He said the Republican ticket has the values that rural voters embrace.
“We are strong because of the values we try to live by: courage and compassion, reverence and integrity. We’re strong because of the institutions that help give us direction and purpose: our families, our schools and our religious congregations. These values and institutions are fundamental to our lives,” he said to applause.
Mr. Bush, accompanied by one of his twin daughters, Barbara, visited this iron-mining town on the shores of Lake Superior — the first sitting president to do so since President Taft in 1911 — with an eye on picking up votes on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Although he beat former Vice President Al Gore to win 12 of the 15 counties on the Upper Peninsula in 2000, he lost Marquette County by a vote of 53 percent to 43 percent (15,503 to 12,577) and lost the state 51 percent to 46 percent.
Later yesterday, Mr. Bush gave a similar speech to several thousand supporters at a convention center in Duluth, Minn., a state he lost to Mr. Gore in 2000 by 2.4 percent. He departed for Milwaukee last night and will make three campaign stops today in Wisconsin, a state he lost by just 5,700 votes out of 2.5 million cast.
The Bush campaign, which has begun to focus on smaller regions and even individual counties that could help the president win re-election, has begun to hammer away on values, an issue that political analysts say resonates with centrist and independent voters.
Vice President Dick Cheney has campaigned in the Midwest recently and criticized Mr. Kerry’s Senate record on issues ranging from his votes against ending partial-birth abortion to his votes against a ban on flag burning.
In a 44-minute speech interrupted dozens of times by applause and cheers, the president yesterday recalled Mr. Kerry’s campaign trip last week through the Midwest. He noted that the candidate — asked by a reporter in Minnesota whether the Democratic ticket of two liberal, multimillionaire lawyers can appeal to rural voters — said, “I actually represent the conservative values that they feel.”
The audience broke out in boos as Mr. Bush said: “I know, I know. But those were his own words. Kinda hard to square that with what he said when he said, ‘I’m a liberal and proud of it.’”
The crowd, many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with large W’s and U.S. flags, whooped its approval.
With his shirt sleeves rolled up and his brow gleaming with sweat, Mr. Bush bashed his opponent for his flip-flop on the Iraq war: The Massachusetts liberal voted to authorize U.S. force against dictator Saddam Hussein, but then voted against an $87 billion funding package for the military, as did his vice-presidential pick, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
“Yesterday, my opponent said he was ‘proud’ that he and his running mate voted against funding the troops. Now listen,” he said before loud boos drowned out his words.
“He’s entitled to his view. He’s entitled to his view. But members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle and then vote against funding them — and then brag about it,” he said.
Mr. Bush also criticized Mr. Kerry for his endorsement of rhetoric by Hollywood entertainers last week, some of whom called the president a “thug” who “sacrifices our young.” Mr. Kerry said the performances represented the “heart and soul of the country.”
“The other day, my opponent said, when he was with some entertainers from Hollywood, that they were the heart and soul of America,” Mr. Bush said, drawing more boos. “I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places right here, in Marquette, Michigan.”