2 candidates take battle to key states

Bush visits Fla. again

Kerry goes West for votes

Election 2004

October 24, 2004|By David L. Greene and Julie Hirschfeld Davis | David L. Greene and Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Putting on a theatrical display reserved for the occupant of the Oval Office, President Bush flew into a Florida baseball stadium yesterday aboard his Marine One helicopter and touched down in left field, dazzling fans and nearly blowing away their campaign signs.

The president was pulling out all the stops to energize Republicans in a state he likely must win to keep his job. And his dramatic landing was symbolic, an aerial invasion of the ballpark that belongs to Sen. John Kerry's beloved Boston Red Sox during spring training.

"It's getting close to voting time," Bush told a crowd of thousands. "Get your friends and neighbors to go to the polls."

Two time zones west, Kerry stood with supporters in front of a refurbished 19th-century train station in Pueblo, Colo., an old steel town. Bush, the Massachusetts Democrat said, has tried to scare people into voting for him by talking constantly about terrorists and suggesting he is the only leader who can fight them.

"Vote your hopes, not the fears that George Bush wants you to feel," Kerry said.

Both men were trying to ignite enthusiasm among partisans to impel them to go to the polls in nine days and encourage others to do the same.

Americans are pointed toward an election that remains unpredictable. Polls show voter interest intense and the candidates in a virtual dead heat.

In City of Palms Park, the small baseball stadium in Fort Myers, photos of Red Sox players hang in the press box, and concession stands sell "Fenway Favorites" in a nod to Boston's hallowed ballpark. But Bush, former managing partner of the Texas Rangers, was the main attraction yesterday.

He used powerful imagery and his Marine helicopter to remind voters that he is their commander in chief, the man at the helm in perilous times.

The campaign hung a banner in left field with a photo of Marine One and the words "Soaring To Victory." Bush strode from the helicopter to the lectern to music that played during Tom Cruise's most macho moments in the movie Top Gun.

"There are clear choices in this election between two very different candidates, with different approaches and different records," Bush said, portraying Kerry as a man who lacks clarity. "You know where I stand. And sometimes ... sometimes ... you even know where my opponent stands."

He said that "the outcome of this election will set the direction of the war against terror." He attacked Kerry for voting to give the president the authority to use force in Iraq and then criticizing the war today.

"When he voted to authorize force, the senator must have recognized the nightmare scenario that terrorists might somehow access weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "Senator Kerry seems to have forgotten all that, as his position has evolved during the course of the campaign. You might call it election amnesia."

Kerry has repeatedly said that his vote was to give the president the power to go to war as a last resort, and only after he had exhausted diplomatic options, conditions that the senator said Bush did not meet.

On his swing through the Southwest, Kerry projected an upbeat tone. He also marked the first game of the World Series, in which the Red Sox were about to take on the St. Louis Cardinals, by throwing around a baseball with his daughter, Vanessa.

"Everything is at stake for our families," Kerry said. "Everything that you care about for your families is on the ballot - that's why it's worth voting."

Kerry peppered his remarks with phrases in Spanish, a nod to the region's sizable Hispanic population, which both parties are mining for votes. Later in the day, he traveled on to rally supporters in Las Cruces, N.M. Polls show the race tied in the state.

In front of the clock tower at Pueblo's Union Depot, Kerry said, "I want you to vote your hopes for the economy, because I want an economy where Americans are not just working for the economy; I want an economy which is working for Americans every day."

To rouse his audience, Kerry reminded the crowd of the 2000 presidential recount and the subsequent legal battle between Bush and Al Gore, which still inspires outrage among Democrats.

"The last election was decided by 537 votes, and in reality decided by one vote in the Supreme Court of the United States," Kerry said, to boos. "Your votes count."

Kerry will hold a rally tomorrow in Philadelphia with the party's most popular figure: Bill Clinton. Today, Kerry will stump in Florida, arriving hours after the president leaves.

While any of the battleground states could prove pivotal to the outcome of the campaign, the candidates are lavishing Florida with attention in a way that suggests it might be the electoral epicenter again.

The president spent his day in counties he won in 2000. Aides said he was coming to friendly territory to mobilize hard-core Republicans and try to increase his margin of victory in these areas by a few percentage points.

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