-- President Bush returned to the Mountain State to celebrate Independence Day, telling a spirited crowd Sunday that on its 228th birthday the nation is "moving forward with confidence and strength."
The president's 24-minute speech under the golden dome of the state Capitol focused heavily on the war on terrorism and the administration's push for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He repeatedly praised U.S. troops' efforts to secure those countries, which he said was necessary to America's security.
"On this Fourth of July, we confirm our love of freedom," Bush said. "But we also understand that freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world.
"And by serving that ideal, by never forgetting the values and the principles that have made this country so strong 228 years after our founding, we will bring hope to others and, at the same time, make America more secure," the president said, to loud applause.
Two years ago, in the first Independence Day observance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Bush visited Ripley, W. Va. Although West Virginia has only five electoral votes, it is considered a swing state in this fall's presidential election, and Sunday's visit was Bush's third since April.
He carried West Virginia in 2000 by 6 percentage points, but job losses by steel workers -- which some blame on Bush's decision to lift tariffs on imported steel two years ago -- have cost him support. As Bush's motorcade approached the Capitol, dozens of supporters of Democratic challenger John F. Kerry lined the streets, waving campaign posters.
But the crowd of several thousand that greeted Bush in the hot, thick air -- paramedics scrambled to rescue a few people who passed out -- enthusiastically chanted, "Four more years!" and wildly waved tiny replicas of Old Glory as he took the stage on the steps of the Capitol shortly before 1 p.m. They especially cheered when Bush spoke of the U.S. resolve to stare down terrorists.
"We made a decision, you see: We will engage these enemies in these countries and around the world so we do not have to face them here at home," Bush said, drawing applause, and prompting the audience to join in his speech.
"You can't talk sense to them," Bush said, referring to terrorists.
"Nooooo!" the audience roared.
"You can't negotiate with them."
"We must be relentless and determined to do our duty," he concluded to sustained applause.
Bush's visit to Charleston was cut short by a mechanical glitch with Air Force One. The plane was flown to Hagerstown, Md., to pick up the president, who was at nearby Camp David. But after Bush arrived about 9:45 a.m., the crew discovered a malfunctioning starter valve in the left engine. Bush waited an hour until a backup plane arrived. He did not leave Hagerstown until 11, when he was to have been at the Bible Center's morning services.
Bush told the crowd at the Capitol that he had assured the church's pastor, Shawn Thornton, "that I was looking forward to his sermon. . . . I missed it because the plane broke down." The audience laughed.
After Bush's speech, Bill Greaver, 51, an operating-room nurse who works for the Veterans Affairs Department, said he agrees that the United States has a duty to help the Iraqi people.
"Look at what he's done to free the Iraqi people. The oppression that these people were under over there for so long, and now they have just the simple things in life that they didn't have before -- food, water, medicine -- the things we take for granted every day," said Greaver, who lives in nearby Clarksburg. Bush touched only briefly on domestic issues, noting, "Our economy is healthy. . . . People are finding work every single day."
Buck Flynn, a retired Verizon Communications worker who lives in Charleston, said Bush gave a "good speech and I think he's done well. It's a tough job."
But Flynn, 66, a Democrat, said he will more likely vote for Kerry. "I think he will take the country in a different direction and I think the economy will be better under the Democrats," he said.
If Flynn had his druthers, though, his candidate would be Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. "I would have been out there beating the bushes, with flags and everything!" he said, his face lighting up.