Pre-election touchdown for President Bush
(with Michael Mastroianni)
President George W. Bush made a final pre-election appearance in the Pittsburgh area yesterday morning at the Post-Gazette Pavilion, drawing more than 11,000 supporters from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
The president repeated his request for the votes of Democrats who are "not on the far left bank" of the political mainstream, as he characterizes his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Bush began the rally in his customary manner, appealing to local concerns and asking the crowd "for your vote, and for your help." He promised voters in the Rust Belt a better future for the economically depressed region.
"I will support free and fair trade, and that will create jobs in this area for coal and steel," Bush said.
The president drew cheers from his analysis of the war on terror, saying Iraq and Afghanistan have greatly benefited from U.S. intervention during the last three years.
"Iraq is still dangerous," he reminded the crowd, "because it is headed toward democracy. In January, Iraqis will go to the polls. Just look how far they have come since the time of torture rooms and mass graves."
The president did not mention the Osama bin Laden tape that emerged Friday. The tape led political pundits to hail the arrival of the anticipated "October Surprise," an event immediately prior to the election that could seriously affect the outcome.
By contrast, both parties have used the bin Laden tape to justify their stance on terrorism. Democrats have highlighted the Bush administration's failure to capture the most-wanted terrorist, while Republicans have used bin Laden's appearance to channel support for Bush as a wartime president.
Yesterday morning, the president said, "we are systemically destroying the Al-Qaeda network," adding, "one of America's most powerful weapons in the war on terror is freedom."
Bush blasted Kerry's Senate record by naming him to "the flip-flop hall of fame," referring to the senator changing his vote on the $87 billion supplement to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At one point the crowd heckled a number of protesters being led out of the pavilion by police. The president elicited one of the loudest jeers from the crowd by mentioning the political activism of actor Ben Affleck and filmmaker Michael Moore.
Several politicians and celebrities joined Bush on stage, including Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Curt Schilling, pitcher with the world-champion Boston Red Sox.
"Everybody wants to be on a winning team," Schilling said. "Tell your neighbors you are voting for George W. Bush, and get them out to the polls, too."
"We need a solid team effort in Pennsylvania to reelect the president," said Lynn Swann, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.
Bush assured audience members that "freedom is not only America's gift to the world. Freedom is the All Mighty's gift to each and everyone of us."
In closing, Bush asked the crowd to "stand with [him]" when they go to the polls today.