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Bush: Fighting terror 'not for pride,' but to protect Americans
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President George W. Bush at Madison Square Garden Thursday. "We seek to provide not just a government program, but a path - a path to greater opportunity, more freedom, and more control over your own life," the president says in his acceptance speech. (Photo by LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)
President Bush, his first term shadowed by war, promises to fight terrorists "not for pride, not for power" but to keep America safe. In excerpts of his acceptance speech, the Republican incumbent predicted that voters will want four more years of "steady, consistent, principled leadership."

New York, N.Y. — (AP) - President Bush sought to take the edge off a conservative image honed by three years of war and $2 trillion in tax cuts, casting himself Thursday as the steady leader who would use a second term to build "a more hopeful America."

The Republican National Convention has showcased the party's dwindling moderates, and Bush tried to balance empathy for people's problems with the overwhelming responsiblities of war.

"I am running for president with a clear and positive plan to build a safer world and a more hopeful America," Bush said in prepared remarks. It was language carefully tailored to counter Democrats' charges that he has offered up little more than fear of terrorist attack as his rationale for running again.

"I am running with a compassionate conservative philosophy: that government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives."

The president tried to debunk criticism that his administration is dominated by warmongers.

"We have fought the terrorists across the earth - not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake," Bush said.

In the excerpts released by Bush's re-election campaign, there was no mention of Bush's opponent, Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

But Bush implicitly criticized Kerry, whom the White House constantly tries to paint as a flip-flopping political opportunist.

"I believe this nation wants steady, consistent, principled leadership," the president said.

Democrats criticized the speech hours before Bush delivered it.

"He will claim that this is the best economy of our lifetimes, and that he is on the side of middle-class families, he will lay out his tired, old policy proposals and claim that they compose a new agenda, said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer. "But these are old ideas, bad ideas, and failed ideas. Bush has a record of proposing policies that hurt America's middle class while benefiting Bush's special interest friends and the wealthiest few."

Bush's task was to persuade a bitterly divided nation that 3 and a half years of hard testing have given him the wisdom and judgment to lead the nation through dangerous waters. He was speaking on the last night of his party's national convention here, a gala that launched him into the final two months of his last campaign.

The president was spending only 24 hours in the convention city, his re-nomination wedged between frenetic campaign trips. Rather than spend a second night in New York, a state that appears a lock for Kerry, Bush was leaving after his speech for his 34th trip to Pennsylvania. It was one of four states he will visit on Friday, foreshadowing the breakneck pace he plans to keep until Nov. 2.

Between speech rehearsals Thursday, Bush attended a prayer service organized by his re-election campaign at a Park Avenue church.

It had a decidedly Republican flavor to it. The church pastor, Rev. George William Rutler, fondly recalled the leadership of President Reagan, and made Sept. 11 the centerpiece of his sermon, just as Bush has done in his campaign.

"Three years ago, our nation suffered a terrible storm," Rutler told a congregation of Bush campaign officials, convention leaders and Bush family and friends. The president, his wife and his parents sat in the front pews.

"Some thought God was asleep," Rutler said. "Priests looked into the eyes of firefighters asking for a final absolution before they went into the flames. Those eyes keep looking at us, for they will never close."

The campaign arranged for a wide spectrum of clergymen to address those gathered at the gilded church. Besides Rutler, there was a black Christian minister, a rabbi and a Muslim imam.

Later, Bush inspected the Madison Square Garden hall where he would give his speech.

Bush fiddled with his microphone and read snippets of his speech.

"I proudly accept," he said - and then joshed with journalists: "My fellow members of the press corps, especially cameramen, tax relief is on the way. Don't spend it all in one place."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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