In his address to delegates at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, President Bush picked apart John Kerry's record on the Iraq war and tax cuts and summoned the nation toward victory over terrorism and economic security at home. "Nothing will hold us back," he said in the speech, which launched his fall reelection campaign.
Bush also mentioned cultural issues on which he and Kerry differ: reproductive rights and a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage as well as the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, which President Clinton signed into law and Kerry opposed. "If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling the Reagan presidency eight years of 'moral darkness,' then you may be a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of them," Bush said.
"Four more years, four more years," the delegates chanted as Bush strode--alone--onto a podium in the middle of a heavily fortified convention hall. His introduction was a video that stirred memories of September 11--and credited him with having "the heart of a president."
Bush's speech marked the beginning of a two-month campaign sprint to Election Day, and Kerry clearly couldn't wait. In a ferocious counterattack after a week of GOP convention-week criticism, he called the wartime commander in chief and Vice President Dick Cheney unfit to lead the nation.
The president said Kerry has proposed "more than $2 trillion in new federal spending so far, and that's a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts." Bush added: "To pay for that spending, he is running on a platform of increasing taxes--and that's the kind of a promise a politician usually keeps." Contrary to Bush's characterization, Kerry's economic plan calls for rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts only on the top 2% of wage earners while leaving the rest in effect.
The public opinion polls made the race a toss-up as Bush stepped up to a custom-made, theater-in-the-round-style podium at Madison Square Garden. The country is divided along political lines that are shaping the Electoral College strategy for him and Kerry alike. By all accounts, Bush is safely ahead in customary GOP strongholds across the South and Great Plains states, with Kerry similarly situated in Democratic base states from New York to Illinois to California.
That leaves about 20 states to contest, across nine weeks of personal campaigning, presidential and vice presidential debates, and more than $100 million in campaign advertising.