Bush rallied supporters in the town of Hobbs with several digs against Kerry before heading to two more campaign events in Colorado.
Bush's attack keys off a new campaign ad that quotes the Massachusetts senator saying in a New York Times Magazine interview published on Sunday that "we have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they're a nuisance."
"I couldn't disagree more," said Bush, who was accompanied by daughter Jenna and nephew George P. Bush. "Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorist networks and spreading freedom and liberty around the world."
Phil Singer, a Kerry-Edwards campaign spokesman, said Republicans misrepresented Kerry's full comments, which promised to reduce the terror threat so it doesn't threaten lives every day while continuing the battle.
"Considering that George Bush doesn't think we can win the War on Terror, let Usama bin Laden escape and rushed into Iraq with no plan to win the peace, it's no surprise that his campaign is distorting every word John Kerry has ever said," Singer said.
At the event in a town that demonstrated clear excitement about the president's visit, Bush also accused Kerry of a "shift in the wind" for first opposing and then supporting parts of legislation signed last year that allow timber companies to thin out debris in national forests in an effort to stop wildfires.
"My opponent was against it. Now, he says he likes parts of the law," Bush said. "I guess it's not only the wildfires that shift in the wind."
Kerry does support focusing thinning operations on the parts of fire-prone forests that pose the most immediate threat to communities, but says the president's approach is a boon to big timber companies that leaves old-growth trees at risk of logging in the name of fire prevention.
"We absolutely must modernize our nation's forest fire policies, but Bush is on the wrong track," Singer said.
Kerry was in New Mexico Monday for his only public appearance before Wednesday's final presidential debate. Kerry arrived Sunday night and said he had no plans to cede the battleground state to Bush, who he said was in a "state of denial."
"I will tell you what, ladies and gentlemen. New Mexico has five electoral votes. The state of denial has none. I like my chances," Kerry told a crowd in Albuquerque.
On Monday, Kerry delivered a speech in which he said he would push scientists to develop alternative fuels.
"We're going to get them moving to get us into alternative, renewable energy. We're going to start making America energy-independent," the four-term senator said, while also criticizing the Republican-led Senate for failing to pass an energy package.
Kerry said he would lower energy costs and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by developing clean fuels, energy efficient buildings, diversifying fuel supplies and sources and upgrading the electrical grid.
"Instead of standing up for you, George Bush has chosen secret meetings with the energy industry behind closed doors in the White House," Kerry said. "And after four years of empty rhetoric and inaction, the Republican-controlled Congress is ending another session without passing a good energy bill for America. At the end of the day, George Bush just couldn't get it done."
The Bush-Cheney campaign said Kerry had worked in the Senate against the president's proposals to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil and develop renewable energy.
"John Kerry's obstruction of a national energy policy makes his current political opportunism completely hypocritical," said spokesman Steve Schmidt. "John Kerry will tell people whatever he thinks they want to hear, and his multiple positions are destroying his credibility with the American people."
Kerry's speech focusing on energy independence might go down well in New Mexico, which has several major government research labs. In Santa Fe, where he was speaking, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 62 to 18 percent.
On Sunday, Kerry told his audience that Bush had "chosen the oil companies and the power companies. He's chosen the drug companies over you."
He added Monday that gas increases were helping "this president's friends in the oil industry.
"The money you're paying at the pump is going directly from your wallets straight into the hands of oil companies and oil producers," Kerry said.
While Kerry was planning on retreating to prepare for Wednesday's debate, Bush had plenty on his plate ahead of their meeting at Arizona State University in Tempe. Late Monday, the president was in Colorado, where recent polls give him a 9-point lead over Kerry.
The president's visit was not merely to protect that lead with a rally at Red Rocks amphitheater, but also to support brewery heir Pete Coors (search), who's lagging behind Democratic state Attorney General Ken Salazar (search) for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (search).
After Coors' Sunday news-show appearance, Bush may be wondering why he's there. The beer mogul said Congress probably wouldn't have voted to authorize the war in Iraq if it had been known that Saddam Hussein didn't have chemical and biological weapons.
Coors added that he supported Bush's War on Terror, but shied away from saying whether he would have voted to approve action in Iraq.
Bush said he wasn't worried about Coors' independence.
"Oh, I might not get him to vote every way, every time the way I want him to," Bush said without mentioning Coors' Iraq comments. "He's kind of an independent fellow. But I know I'd be able to count on him on the big issues."
Even as Bush tries to stay on domestic issues ahead of the debate, his campaign's response to Kerry's comments in the New York Times Magazine launched a new round of debate over national security and the War on Terror.
The Bush campaign said the remark shows Kerry doesn't understand the terrorist threat. The ad says Kerry calls terrorism a "nuisance." He in fact does not, but FOX News contributor Tammy Bruce said the president could not have asked for a better quote from his rival.
"It really does define the differences and positions between George W. Bush, who wants to deal with this issue as it stands, bringing the war to the terrorists, versus John Kerry, who wants to go back to where we were, which I don't think a lot of Americans would feel comfortable going back to Sept. 10," Bruce said.
Chicago Tribune editor James Warren said Bush was unlikely to be able to capitalize on Kerry's remark.
"I think that quote is going to be absolutely immaterial to the extent that it is only relevant if Bush can adequately put [it] in the context as somebody you, the voter, in November won't feel confident in," Warren said.
Texans for Truth (search), an independent pro-Kerry political group, also launched a new ad which began running Monday in Albuquerque, N.M.; Las Vegas, Nev.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Little Rock, Ark.
In it, wives of National Guardsmen who served in the Vietnam War are interviewed, and their husbands' service records are compared to the president's.
Bush has been accused of avoiding his duties to the service while Kerry was in Vietnam, winning five combat medals.
After Wednesday's debate, Bush will head to Nevada, which tilts toward Bush but remains in Kerry's sights.
Bush closed the day Monday at a raucous outdoor rally in the scenic Red Rocks park outside Denver. Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, picking up on the day's theme, introduced his former commander in chief as a man with "the character not to tie but to win against the terrorists."
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Molly Henneberg contributed to this report.