Bush Urges GOP in Fla. to Re-Elect Him
MIAMI - President Bush campaigned from one end of battleground Florida to the other Sunday, criticizing Cuba's Fidel Castro in a pitch to the state's Cuban-Americans and urging Republican supporters in Miami to help give him a second term.
"If you believe America should fight the war on terror with all her might and lead with unwavering confidence," Bush said, "I ask you, come stand by me. If you are a Democrat who believes your great party has turned too far left in this year, I ask you, come stand with me."
Florida, which offers 27 electoral votes, is the site of the rancorous recount of 2000, decided by a divided Supreme Court that sealed Bush's 537-vote victory. The Republican incumbent is determined to keep the state in his column Tuesday, a point underscored by his top political adviser as he disembarked from Air Force One Sunday.
"Cuba Libre!" exclaimed Karl Rove.
Seeking to win over Hispanic voters, including Cuban-Americans who typically vote Republican, Bush sprinkled a few Spanish phrases into his stump speech at an exposition center and promised to push for freedom in communist Cuba.
Some Cuban-Americans are upset with the Bush administration for a policy that limits them to one trip to their homeland every three years and restricts cash transfers to Cuba.
"We will not rest - we will not rest, we will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedoms in Havana they receive here in America," Bush said to cries of "Viva Bush!"
Then, in a direct reference to Castro, Bush said, "I strongly believe the people of Cuba should be free from the tyrant."
Bush's morning attendance at a Roman Catholic worship service in Miami also reflected his campaign's effort to appeal to Spanish-speaking voters, including Puerto Ricans and immigrants from South America.
Bush told the crowd that this year's election comes down to the question of whether they trust him or Democratic Sen. John Kerry to fight the war on terrorism. Echoing criticism from the past few months, Bush consistency was not Kerry's "long suit" and that his rival entered the "flip-flop Hall of Fame" when he supported one version of a bill providing $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, then voted against another version.
The four-term Massachusetts senator initially supported the appropriation that would have been funded in part by rolling back tax cuts for those with the highest incomes, but ended up voting against the final version as a protest over its funding, which included no-bid contracts.
Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said the rush of early voters in Florida - more than 1.8 million - bodes well for the Democrat. "You don't see long lines like that of people voting for four more years of the same," Singer said.
After Miami, Bush was campaigning in Tampa, a high-growth area in the Interstate 4 corridor, which extends east to west across the state's midsection. It is the battleground of this battleground state. Gainesville in northern Florida was his last stop in the state before heading to Cincinnati.
Before the rally, Bush attended The Church of the Epiphany - home church of Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The president received ovations as he arrived and left the service during which Monsignor Jude O'Doherty praised Bush from the pulpit.
"Mr. President, I want you to know that I admire your faith and your courage to profess it," O'Doherty said in a long tribute to Bush, who has assiduously courted Roman Catholics. "Your belief in prayer and dependence on God has to be an example for all of us."
Bush is a Methodist; Kerry is Catholic.
In Tampa, Bush got a strong endorsement from retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who said Democrats "have no plan whatsoever for combating global terrorism" and "have no leadership whatsoever."
"We do have a leader," Schwarzkopf told a baseball stadium filled with more than 10,000 people, "and that leader knows how to go about defeating terrorism."