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The Presidential Campaign

New Florida identity: the rally state

In one day, President Bush makes four Florida stops in strongly GOP regions, warning of the dangers of terrorism.

By Associated Press
Published October 24, 2004

President Bush hopscotched across Florida on Saturday, delivering a stern warning to voters that terrorists "are determined to strike us again" and that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is too weak for the White House.

"The outcome of this election will set the direction of the war against terror," he said.

"If America shows uncertainty or weakness this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy," he said. "This will not happen on my watch."

Bush said Kerry must be suffering from "election amnesia" because he has forgotten that he once viewed the Iraqi dictator a threat to America.

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded by saying: "As much as we'd all like to forget the last four years of George Bush's failed policies and wrong choices, voters aren't going to have amnesia when it comes time to vote on Election Day."

Bush began his tour of strongly Republican regions in Fort Myers' Palms Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox - Kerry's home team and a contender in the World Series.

As music blared from stadium loudspeakers, Marine One, the presidential helicopter, carrying Bush, his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, and first lady Laura Bush, landed in left field, dusting some of the 10,000 cheering supporters with dirt from the warning track. Bush emerged to the theme of the movie Top Gun.

"The choice in this election could not be clearer," Bush said from a podium set up on second base. "You cannot lead our nation to the decisive victory on which the security of every American family depends if you do not see the true dangers of the post-Sept. 11 world."

The Kerry campaign said Bush's weekend trip to fire up supporters shows that he's no longer trying to woo independents and conservative Democrats in the state.

But Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said that Bush has made recent campaign appearances in Democratic-leaning areas of Florida and that the campaign schedule still would allow another visit to the state before Election Day.

Hurricanes that struck this critical election state restricted Bush to consoling residents and doling out federal storm aid. Bush now is making up for lost time. This was his fifth visit to Florida this month. In addition to the Fort Myers event, the president stopped Saturday in Lakeland, then moved on to Melbourne and Jacksonville.

About 30,000 people attended the Jacksonville rally, which featured country music, cheerleaders and fireworks.

The president then flew to his Texas ranch.

His competition was close by. Kerry was scheduled to spend Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale, and his running mate John Edwards campaigned in Orlando and St. Petersburg.

At two Bush campaign stops, small private planes caused a stir when they violated restricted air space. Both times, fighter jets escorted the planes to nearby airfields.

"The president was never in any danger at either event," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

A small aircraft that flew too close to Bush's rally at Ty Cobb Field in Lakeland and was led to Gilbert Field in Winter Haven, Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur said.

Later, in Melbourne, an F-15 escorted a plane to Merritt Island Airport near Cocoa Beach, said Greg Martin, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington.

In Lakeland, pilot Richard Hart, a Winter Haven business owner, was escorted to the ground after he mistakenly violated the restricted airspace, said Col. Grady Judd, Polk County sheriff's spokesman.

Pilot Robert Hargrave, 73, was heading south from Georgia to Boca Raton in an Aeronca Champ when he violated the 30-mile-wide ring of restricted airspace over the Melbourne rally, Brevard County sheriff's Lt. John Coppola said. Hargrave was flying at about 1,200 feet. Fighter jets dropped flares and made several passes while trying to contact the pilot by radio as he passed the stadium heading south. When the pilot realized he was flying in restricted airspace, he turned around - sending him north, directly over the stadium, Coppola said.

"It made everybody very nervous when we saw the aircraft turn northbound," Coppola said.

The Secret Service interviewed both pilots. The FAA will determine whether further action should be taken, Martin said.

Also Saturday, Bush used his weekly radio address to say Kerry has a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the war on terror.

"Kerry was recently asked how September the 11th had changed him," Bush said. "He replied "It didn't change me much at all."'

Kerry, who made the comment during a recent interview published by the New York Times, also went on to say that the attack reaffirmed his belief the nation needed to better protect itself from terrorists.

"To me, it wasn't as transformational as it was a kind of anger, a frustration and an urgency that we weren't doing the kinds of things necessary to prevent it and to deal with it," Kerry said.

Information from the Associated Press and the Dallas Morning News was used in this report.

[Last modified October 24, 2004, 00:27:32]

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