FORT LEWIS, Wash. – Surrounding himself with soldiers fresh from the battlefield, President Bush on Friday used a western campaign swing to compliment America's military for the fight against terrorism and pick up praise from Sen. John McCain (search), who has rebuffed overtures from Democrat John Kerry (search) to be his running mate.
"People from all over the country join me in saying, 'Thank you for what you are doing,"' the president told hundreds of camouflage-garbed soldiers gathered in a hanger. "There is no cave or hole deep enough to hide from American justice."
McCain, a popular Republican senator who rejected calls to join Kerry's campaign on a unity ticket, praised Bush's efforts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You will not yield," McCain told the troops, "and neither will he."
Bush, in turn, praised McCain's work in the Senate and as a Navy pilot. "It is a privilege to be introduced to the men in uniform by a man who brought credit to the uniform," Bush said.
McCain offered his support to Bush's decision to take America to war, saying it is a "just and necessary fight."
"It is a fight between right and wrong, good and evil," McCain said. "It is no more ambiguous than that."
Bush said it was necessary to invade Iraq to protect America, given the state of the world after Sept. 11. Iraq's deposed leader, Saddam Hussein, he said, defied the world's orders to disarm.
"I had a choice to make: to trust the judgment of a madman or to defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time," Bush said.
Fort Lewis (search) is one of the nine major bases in Washington state, home to more than 94,000 uniformed personnel and civilian employees. Bush said the soldiers there strike so quickly and so quietly, they've become known in Iraq as the Ghost Riders.
"The terrorists in Iraq have plenty to fear from the Ghost Riders of Fort Lewis," he said to wild applause.
After delivering the speech, Bush was scheduled to meet privately with wounded soldiers and relatives of GIs killed in Iraq. He then takes his campaign to Nevada.
Bush lost Washington state by 5 percentage points in 2000, and it is one of the nearly 20 states where he has been running television ads in local media markets. Recent polls show Kerry with a slight lead in Washington state.
More than 830 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq last year. Fort Lewis soldiers account for 26 of those killed, McCain said.
Bush's visit to Fort Lewis is only the second by a sitting U.S. president in the last 60 years.
Bush also jabbed at Kerry during his Western trip.
"I'm running against a fellow who's already promised over a trillion dollars in new money, and we're just getting started," Bush told the crowd at a GOP fund-raiser Thursday night. "And he says he's going to pay for it by taxing the rich. There's not enough money to tax the rich to pay for a trillion dollars in new spending.
"You know who's going to end up paying for the new spending, don't you? You are, hardworking American people."
Kerry said the president was misrepresenting his position.
"They love to give you half-truths. They love to give you a little bit of the story," Kerry told reporters in Detroit on Thursday. "They say that raising taxes is going to be bad. Of course it's bad, and I'm not raising taxes on the average American. But I'm going to roll back George Bush's unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest Americans."
After leaving Fort Lewis, Bush is heading to his next campaign stop in Reno, Nev., before flying back to the Camp David presidential retreat for the weekend.