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Bush courts voters in Democratic territory -- Duluth
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President Bush received a warm welcome from the crowd in Duluth, even though he mistakenly referred to the Iron Range as the Iron Ridge. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Thousands of people turned out to hear President Bush at a campaign rally in Duluth Tuesday evening. The president's visit comes on the heels of a northeastern Minnesota campaign stop by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry earlier this month. In Duluth, Bush told supporters he -- not Kerry -- represents the values of the nation's heartland.

Duluth, Minn. — Supports of President Bush packed the main arena of the Duluth Convention Center. The Bush campaign says more than 7,000 people were there cheering on the president. None of them seemed to mind Bush's misstep in giving a nod to his northern Minnesota location, near the Iron Range.

"I appreciate the good folks from Minnesota and the Iron Ridge and northern Wisconsin who are with us today. By the looks of things, I'm in Bush-Cheney country."

Bush had not been to Duluth since he was running for President in 2000. Days before that election, he also filled the city's convention center.

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Image The crowd

The Bush campaign says the president's visit was not a response to Democratic Sen. John Kerry's campaign rally less than two weeks ago in nearby Cloquet. Still, Bush referenced Kerry's swing through the Upper Midwest, and early on began taking jabs at his Democratic challenger.

"Recently here in the Midwest he tried to claim he was the candidate with conservative values. I know, I know. But that's what he said," Bush said. "It's a bit hard to square that with my opponent's recent statement when he said, 'I'm liberal and proud of it.'"

Bush accused of Kerry being a political chameleon.

"And it's going to be a tough contest. I am running against an experienced United States senator. He's been in Washington a lot longer than I have. He's been there long enough to take both sides of just about every issue," Bush said.

Bush cited Kerry's change of positions on the NAFTA trade agreement, and the "No Child Left Behind" education law. He criticized Kerry for initially supporting the war against Iraq, and then -- last fall -- voting against the $87 billion supplemental defense appropriation.

"Senator Kerry said he is proud that he and his running mate voting against funding for the troops," said Bush. "He's entitled to his view, but members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle and then vote against funding them."

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Image Protesters

Bush called Kerry the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, and said Kerry's recent choice of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards for vice president did nothing to balance the Democratic ticket.

Beyond attacking Kerry and Edwards, Bush spent much of his speech touting his administration's work to make the nation and the world safer. He repeatedly defended his decision to invade Iraq.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq. America and the world is safer because we did," said Bush. "We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them."

Bush also talked about the strengthening economy, and called on Congress to make permanent the tax cuts he pushed for -- which he says are responsible for the economic recovery.

He said little about agricultural policy, other than that he would work to open more foreign markets for U.S. farmers.

When you're out rounding up the vote, remind the folks that the last three and half years have brought serious challenges and we have given serious answers.
- President Bush

Bush said the heart and soul of America is found in places like Duluth, and he spoke about several social issues to the approval of the crowd.

"We stand for the fair treatment of faith-based groups, so they can receive federal support for their works of compassion and healing," said Bush.

Bush also said he stands for institutions like marriage and family which he called foundations of American society. Bush also talked about his opposition to legalized abortion.

And he also called for changing practices of the nation's legal system to eliminate what he called "junk" lawsuits, and for reforming medical liability insurance.

Earlier in the day supporters of John Kerry, several of them health care workers, gathered outside a Duluth hospital to criticize the Bush administration's approach to addressing the rising cost of health care.

DFL State Sen. Becky Lourey called Bush a theat to Medicare.

"The direction the Bush administration is going by privatizing Medicare -- the most popular health coverage in the entire nation -- we have an administration that is destroying it, privatizing it," Lourey said. "That's why all these health care personnel here know that we need a Kerry administration that will bring us universal, quality health care."

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Image Leaning toward Bush

Hundreds of Bush opponents gathered outside of Duluth's Civic Center, just up the street from where the president spoke. And there were Bush opponents scattered around downtown Duluth holding up a variety of signs.

Most of the banners related to the war with Iraq. Jan Karon took up a position just above the convetion center, called the DECC, where thousands of Bush supporters waited in line to get into the rally.

"We figured there were 6,000 people going into the DECC today here in Duluth, and most of them are probably Bush supporters -- although my husband's going in and he is not," Karon said. "And we thought it was real important for them to see something else, like our sign that says, 'No violence. Bring us real peace,' or another sign that says, 'How many wars equal peace?'"

Cody McQuistion, a 19-year old college student, attended the president's rally and said he was impressed with Bush's speech. McQuistion said he had attended the recent Kerry rally in Cloquet. He says he went into the Bush event undecided, but left leaning Republican.

"Bush did plug the war a lot, and I have a couple of buddies over there and it's a big issue on me," said McQuistion. "Kerry didn't push the war as much in his speech, so that might have gotten my vote. It might not have. I'm going to have to see how the debates go. But I'm definitely leaning towards Bush now after seeing that speech."

In 2000, President Bush lost Minnesota by about 2.5 percentage points. He lost the 8th Congressional District, which includes the Duluth area, by about 5 points. Most supporters say they don't expect Bush to win a majority of voter support in the 8th this time around, but they're hoping for a better showing than four years ago -- maybe enough to help decide the election in Minnesota in favor of Bush.

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