President Bush used the restoration of a fort in Perrysburg built for a war 191 years ago as the backdrop yesterday to argue he has the resolve to see through today's war and tomorrow's peace with Iraq.
"Even though we did not find a stockpile of weapons, Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons and could have passed that capability onto our enemies," he told more than 12,000 crowded inside the walls of Fort Meigs.
"After Sept. 11, that was a risk we could not afford to take," he said. "Knowing what I know today, I would make the same decision."
The stop at the War of 1812 fort was the last for the President on a daylong trip along the I-75 corridor of western Ohio that started with a rally in Troy and continued with a forum in Lima.
In all, he talked to about 35,000 people at the ticket-only events before the party faithful.
He plans to accept his party's nomination for re-election Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in New York.
"We've given our word, and when America gives it word, America must keep its word," he said. "Our troops are there to help the political process move forward. We're there to help train the Afghans and Iraqis so they can defend their own freedom, so they can do the hard work that's needed for democracy."
Thousands of flag-waving, sign-carrying people crowded the streets of Findlay and Fostoria.
"Mr. President, can you stop off for a chat?" read one sign held by a woman along State Rt. 12 in Columbus Grove. But she had to be satisfied with a wave from the President from his bus.
The President made one brief stop between Lima and Perrysburg to talk with a family on the front porch of their rented farmhouse along State Rt. 65 in Allen County, just south of Columbus Grove.
The event at the home of Doug and Teresa Page and their two children was selected in advance by NBC, according to Kevin Madden, a Bush spokesman.
Across the street, Larry Rayvurn, a welder, said he holds no grudges against Mr. Bush for the fact that he is currently laid off from the tank plant in Lima. He expects to be called back to work soon.
"I think he's doing a great job," he said.
The entourage wound its way through small towns like Pandora, Benton Ridge, and Arcadia. Most of the crowds shouted support and gave the motorcade the thumbs-up as it rolled through. "Go Get 'Em, George!" read one sign.
A few anti-Bush and pro-Kerry signs began to dot the landscape the farther north the motorcade traveled, with the welcome by some in Bowling Green downright cold. "Worst president ever!" read one sign.
After hosting a rally in Troy yesterday morning, Mr. Bush's motorcade stopped for lunch at the Spot in Sydney on his way to Lima. He ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce, onion, and tomato. He also ordered French fries, but thought better of it when the restaurant suggested onion rings instead.
The bill came to $18.15. He paid with a $20.
Polls show Mr. Bush and Democratic Party nominee John Kerry to be in a dead heat in Ohio, a state that has risen to the forefront of battleground states.
Mr. Bush carried the state over Al Gore in 2000 by 3.5 percentage points, but the Kerry campaign argues that pockets of the state, especially manufacturing centers like Lima, have been bypassed by the economic recovery touted by the President on the campaign trail.
"I understand Ohio," Mr. Bush told about 2,000 at Lima Senior High School, a new building opened last week as part of the district's $100 million building project.
"I've been here a lot, and I'll come back a lot," he said. "There are parts of your state that are lagging behind the national economy. I understand that, which means you better have somebody in office who has a plan to continue economic growth."
He noted that the national unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, lower than average unemployment rates of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
But he did not mention that Ohio's unemployment rate last month was 5.9 percent and climbing. A U.S. Census report this week also showed that the number of Ohioans living in poverty and without health insurance is rising.
"He has demonstrated that he doesn't understand the real issues," said Brendon Cull, a Kerry spokesman. "He doesn't have a plan to create jobs for Ohioans, lower the cost of health insurance, and increase funding for education. People get that."
At the "Ask President Bush" event in Lima, Mr. Bush used prescreened members of the audience to illustrate his points.
He pointed to Jodi Arnold, a part-time physical therapist from Bryan. She and her husband received $1,700 in tax breaks in each of the last two years as a result of the tax cuts ushered through Congress by Mr. Bush. They used the money to put a new roof on their home.
He then turned the conversation to Mr. Kerry's proposal to roll back some of those tax increases to pay for increased spending for health care and other programs.
"If we don't act [to make the tax cuts permanent], you're running up her taxes," he said, pointing to Mrs. Arnold.
Benjamin and Mandy Wood, of Perrysburg, waited four hours in the heat to see Mr. Bush in person for the first time. Both plan to support his re-election on Nov. 2.
"I agree with his views on national security and God," Mr. Wood said. "That's the message I want to hear."
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.36.66616 -77.70176
President Bush used the restoration of a fort in Perrysburg built for a war 191 years ago as the backdrop yesterday to argue he has the resolve to see through today's war and tomorrow's peace with Iraq. "Even though we did not find a stockpile of weapons, Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons and could have passed that capability onto our enemies," he told more than 12,000 crowded inside the walls of Fort Meigs.