COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—President Bush struck a deeply conservative social note today as he rallied supporters in this bastion of evangelical Christians, hoping it will help propel him to victory on Nov. 2.
"We're living in changing times, but there's some things that don't change: reverence and integrity, compassion and courage, the values we try to live by," he told the rally.
As he headed to Phoenix for Wednesday night's final debate, the president also honed his promise to deliver a "stronger, better and safer America" in the next four years while lambasting Sen. John F. Kerry's "dangerous way of thinking" when it comes to combating terrorism.
Addressing nearly 9,000 supporters here, Bush delivered his spirited, trademark defense of the Iraq war and vowed: "I will never relent in defending America — whatever it takes!"
The president in 2000 won Colorado by a 50.7% to 42.3% margin over Democrat Al Gore. But this year it is considered among the dozen or so states that remain in play, although recent polls have given Bush a low, single-digit lead.
Colorado Springs, in the shadows of Pike's Peak, is a culturally conservative stronghold, home to numerous military facilities and Focus on the Family, a far-flung evangelical ministry with programs that reach tens of millions of people around the United States and the world who embrace its traditional family values and its conservative Christian interpretations of scripture.
Colorado Springs also is the birthplace of the state's anti-tax initiatives and Amendment 2, which in 1992 repealed city gay rights ordinances, although it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The region, in short, is among the most Republican metropolitan areas in the country. Voters in surrounding El Paso County four years backed Bush by 64% to 31% margin, about the same margin Gore won in the Denver metropolitan area.
Today, at a rally in the city's World Arena and Ice Hall, the president was introduced by one of his daughters, Jenna. She delivered a standard introduction, unlike the humor-laced co-introduction of her mother at the Republican National Convention that she delivered with her twin sister, Barbara.
In his remarks, the president lauded Vice President Dick Cheney as a man "with sound judgment and great experience."
But Bush saved his most heartfelt words for a broad assault on Kerry, whom he labeled as "the most liberal member of the United States Senate."
Bush broke no new ground in his stump speech here, but he seemed to emphasize his embrace of cultural issues dear to social conservatives.
"In changing times, we must support the institutions that give our lives direction and purpose — our families, our schools, our religious congregations. We stand for a culture of life in which every person counts and every being matters. We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. We stand for the appointment of federal judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law."
On other domestic issues, Bush renewed his warning that Kerry would have to raise taxes broadly in order to pay for his spending programs, even though Kerry in the last debate vowed not to do so.
In contrast, Bush said, "I'm a compassionate conservative. I think the government ought to help people realize their dreams — not tell them how to live their lives."
He also accused Kerry of proposing a big-government health care reform program that would cause eight out of 10 newly insured Americans to be enrolled "in a government program." Kerry has said his proposals would do no such thing.
The president also raced through a litany of his domestic initiatives, from education and litigation reform to deregulation and simplification of the U.S. tax code, which he called "a complicated mess."
"I went to Washington to solve problems-not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations," he said.
With the focus of Wednesday's debate on domestic issues, Bush also took the opportunity to again take Kerry to task for his stance on Iraq, noting that the senator's claims that he has had only one position on the matter "simply do not pass the credibility test."
Vowing anew to take the fight to terrorists, Bush warned: "If America shows uncertainty or weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch." At another point, he added: "I will never relent in defending America-whatever it takes."
From Colorado Springs, Bush flew to Phoenix, where he spoke at a second campaign rally before retiring to a resort to do some additional "informal" debate preparations, aides said.