COLUMBUS, Ohio – Within minutes of arriving in his GOP convention city, President Bush was embracing New York firefighters — human symbols of the Sept. 11 attacks that defined his first term and are a main focus of his re-election campaign.
Firefighters chanted "four more years" as Bush and first lady Laura Bush arrived Wednesday night at a community center for Italian Americans in Queens, about a half-hour's drive from midtown Manhattan where the president will accept his party's nomination Thursday night.
Video of Bush accepting the endorsement of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York (search), a union representing some 8,600 firefighters, was shown in the convention hall as delegates cheered.
Bush said the endorsement, nearly three years after he visited the World Trade Center rubble, was especially meaningful, "because the truth of the matter is, the inspiration I received from the firefighters on that site is something I'll never forget."
"To see the courage and compassion and decency of our fellow Americans during an incredible time of stress has shaped my thinking about the future of this country," he said. His eyes misted as he stood among the firemen, holding a black fire helmet that said "Commander in Chief."
The endorsement was meant as an answer to Democratic challenger John Kerry (search), who has the support of most of organized labor. The largest firefighters union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, endorsed Kerry a year ago during the Democratic presidential primaries, and its representatives often attend his events.
Like Bush's campaign ads, the Republican convention has been heavy with reminders of the terrorist attacks south of Madison Square Garden (search), where the Republican convention is under way. On Monday night at the convention, two Sept. 11 widows and the brother of a victim told their personal stories.
Bush arrived in New York in the evening after attending a campaign rally in Ohio, his 23rd visit to the state. The president closed his campaign speech in Columbus with a vignette that is a staple of his stump speech but one that had special resonance as he prepared to fly to New York.
"None of us will ever forget that week when one era ended and another began," Bush said. "Sept. 14, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. It's a day I will never forget."
"Since that day I have a duty that has gone on. I wake up every morning trying to figure out how best to protect our country," he said.
His audience at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus roared its approval. As Bush left, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared from loudspeakers.
Not everyone was convinced. Outside, about 200 protesters chanted "No more Bush!" In New York, across from the community center, demonstrators carried signs calling for impeachment.
Bush received another endorsement as he spoke to supporters in Columbus: He was introduced by golf legend and Ohioan Jack Nicklaus.
"I'm not known for taking political positions," said Nicklaus, who gave Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, $500 for his campaign this year. "I do most of my work in more quiet settings, around greens, not around the White House, but this is the most important election our country has faced in decades."
As Republicans showcased their "compassion agenda" in New York, Bush sought to project empathy to anxious workers in this economically struggling state. He will tour Ohio by bus a fourth time this weekend.
"I fully understand we still face challenges in manufacturing communities, places like Youngstown, other parts of your great state, Canton," Bush said. "I've been to those communities. I know there are workers worried about their future, and I've got a plan to continue the economic vitality of this state and this country."