Twelve hours after John F. Kerry accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, President Bush launched a two-day swing through the industrial belt's four biggest battleground states.
After spending the week of the Democratic National Convention at his Texas ranch, Bush set a ferocious pace that aides said will continue through Election Day. His aides said he did not watch Kerry's speech Thursday night but did tune in to other parts of the convention, where speaker after speaker questioned the president's record and judgment.
"We heard a lot of clever speeches and some big promises," said Bush, who spoke from the pitcher's mound at Southwest Missouri State University's stadium. "My opponent has good intentions, but intentions do not always translate to results. After 19 years in the United States Senate, my opponent has had thousands of votes, but very few signature achievements." Bush added that Kerry "has no significant record for reforming education and health care" and cannot be trusted to reorganize the nation's intelligence services.
Kerry's campaign responded to Bush's charges by noting that Kerry and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had negotiated an agreement with Vietnam to provide a full accounting for Americans missing in the Vietnam War, and that Kerry has led the effort to reduce acid rain and protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling and to pass legislation shutting down money-laundering activities of terrorists and drug traffickers.
Bush has portrayed himself as a wartime president, reflecting his campaign's initial strategy to play up his role as commander in chief. But Friday he unveiled a speech stressing general-election themes and returning to the tenets of compassionate conservatism that he stressed in 2000.
Bush reached out to independent voters -- especially women -- with his pledge to work for legislation that would give workers more "family-friendly" options for taking accrued time off.
"We'll make sure American families keep more of something they never have enough of, and that's time -- time to play with the kids, time to go to the Little League games, time to care for elderly parents or time to go to class themselves," he said. "I believe Congress ought to enact comp time and flextime to help America's families" better juggle the demands of work and home.
Polls showed Bush and Kerry in a statistical tie as the Democratic convention began, but Bush aides predicted that the Massachusetts senator gain a lead as he and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), move into some of the same turf where the president campaigned.
Matthew Dowd, chief strategist of the Bush-Cheney campaign, said Kerry "will receive a bounce and will be ahead starting August -- the only open question is by how much and how long it lasts." But a variety of other Bush officials said Kerry's performance and the tone of the Democrats' gathering had made them much more optimistic than they were a week ago that the two will be tied going into the Republican National Conventionon Aug. 30.
Kerry has charged that the report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks showed that Bush had not done enough since then to protect the nation, and called for swift action on the panel's recommendations for reorganizing the nation's intelligence machinery. Bush, arguing that he had not been caught flatfooted, said he agreed with "the conclusion of the September the 11th commission when they said our homeland is safer but we are not yet safe." He added that he had "started the hard process of reform" through such steps as creating the Department of Homeland Security.
Bush said Kerry was the one who had been derelict. "It's not enough to advocate reform -- you have to be able to get it done," he said. "During eight years on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he voted to cut the intelligence budget and he had no record of reforming America's intelligence-gathering capability."
Bush used the phrase "results matter" five time during his speech, delivered to a Republican audience so enthusiastic that several men joined the standing ovation by getting up on their rickety plastic chairs in the infield. Half a dozen times, as Bush worked through his plans and claims of achievement, he repeated a new mantra: "We are turning the corner, and we're not turning back."
Bush sketched the issues that will make up his agenda for reelection, and aides said he will roll out details as he heads for the GOP convention. His rubric for his new domestic platform is "a new era of ownership and opportunity," which would add private accounts to Social Security, to allow younger workers to invest part of their retirement money themselves. "We want more people owning and managing a part of the retirement systems," he said.
After his appearance in southern Missouri, Bush flew to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he spoke at a community college. He was going to spend the night in Cleveland, and then, after addressing young athletes at the International Children's Games and Cultural Festival there, Bush planned to head out Saturday on a "Heart and Soul of America" bus tour through Ohio and into western Pennsylvania. In 2000, Bush won Ohio and Missouri and lost Pennsylvania and Michigan.