SELLERSBURG, Ind. -- In an appearance that amounted to his first traditional campaign rally of the election season, President Bush told wildly cheering supporters here yesterday that Democrats did not want to investigate, prosecute or even detain terrorists and had no plan for Iraq.
And, introducing a relatively new line in his election-year stump speech, Bush criticized the "activist" New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling this week that same-sex couples were entitled to the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.
"We believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and should be defended," Bush said, reminding the crowd of his two conservative Supreme Court appointees, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. "I will continue to appoint judges who strictly interpret the law."
Aides said Bush's appearance yesterday was the first of many planned for the final days before the Nov. 7 election, as he pivots from the role of fundraiser in chief to that of cheerleader in chief.
For Bush, it was a return to the kind of campaigning he likes best. He gave his speech in rolled-up shirtsleeves, standing before an ecstatic crowd packed into a high school gymnasium. Listeners waved pompoms and held signs that said "Welcome to Bush Country" or simply "W" and hooted their support with deafening enthusiasm. Their cheers nearly overwhelmed the shouts of an anti-war demonstrator, whose protests were barely audible, and occasionally drowned out the president.
Bush came onstage with Rep. Mike Sodrel, one of three Indiana Republicans facing tough Democratic opposition this year. The president's list of Democrats' deficiencies included their votes against the administration's program to wiretap phone conversations of terrorism suspects without warrants and their opposition to trying terrorism suspects in special military tribunals without habeas corpus.
"In all these vital measures for fighting the war on terror, the Democrats in Washington follow a simple philosophy: Just say no," Bush said. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have pushed for greater restrictions on the president's authority to order wiretaps without warrants. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said they had called for a more solid legal foundation in trying terrorism suspects.
Manley said the president was practicing "the politics of fear and smear."
"Of course we want to listen to and detain terrorists," Manley said. "We just don't want to give the president a blank check."
Continuing his national security theme, Bush also attended a rally for troops at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina.
To a crowd of hundreds of service members gathered on the tarmac, Bush gave a streamlined version of his stump speech, removing direct mention of Democrats or the coming election, and appeared to direct criticism at the opposition.
"I know some in America don't believe Iraq is the central front in the war on terror -- that's fine, and they can have that opinion," Bush said. "But Osama bin Laden knows it's the central front in the war on terror."
And he offered words for those who have lost loved ones in the war.
"I make them this pledge," he said. "We will honor their sacrifice by completing the mission, by defeating the terrorists and laying the foundation of peace for generations to come."