STOCKTON, California – U.S. President George W. Bush, on a campaign swing in the West, is telling voters that the Democratic Party is weak-kneed on national security and shouldn't be trusted to hold the reins of Congress.
"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party, it sounds like — it sounds like — they think the best way to protect the American people is, wait until we're attacked again," Bush said Monday at a US$360,000 fundraiser in Reno, Nevada, for state Secretary of State Dean Heller's congressional campaign.
"That's not the way it's going to be under my administration. We will stay on the offense," the president said. "We will defeat the enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home."
On the home stretch of campaigning for the Nov. 7 elections, Bush is using his fundraising sprint through Nevada, California, Arizona and Colorado to draw a line between Democrats and Republicans, especially when it comes to fighting terrorists.
Bush was speaking Tuesday at a breakfast fundraiser in Stockton, 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of the San Francisco Bay Area, for Rep. Richard Pombo. Later, he was to attend a fundraiser in El Dorado Hills for Rep. John Doolittle and then raise cash at a Republican National Committee event in Los Angeles.
One presidential action was tucked into Bush's schedule Tuesday, perhaps to help the various campaigns defray the cost of getting the president to the political events. He was to sign the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act. Pombo sponsored the House version of the bill, which aims to help landowners restore and manage fish and wildlife habitats on private property.
Bush's first stop on his trip West was an airport hangar in Reno, Nevada, where a few hundred people gathered to support Heller, who is running against Democrat Jill Derby.
Republicans have held the seat since it was created 25 years ago to represent more than 100,000 sq. miles (260,000 sq. kilometers) — nearly the entire state except for Las Vegas. Republicans hold an edge of more than 47,000 registered, mostly rural voters, but polls suggest it is a close race.
About 100 protesters chanting "Vote for Change" rallied nearby.
"I think it's an indication of how desperate the Republicans have gotten to try to hang onto a seat that just a year ago was considered a slam dunk for the Republicans," said Pam duPre, executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party.
As the elections near, Democrats have been stepping up attacks on Bush's policies for fighting terrorists and his strategy in Iraq. They are citing a National Intelligence Estimate, which the president has partly declassified, suggesting that the war in Iraq has helped recruit more terrorists.
Bush disputes the claim, saying that if policymakers in Washington become convinced that fighting terrorists creates terrorists, then America will return to a pre-Sept. 11 mentality of waiting to be attacked.
Hoping to lure Republican supporters to the polls, Bush will be using his fundraising speeches this week to chide Democrats for voting against legislation addressing the CIA's program for detaining and interrogating terrorist suspects and the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
"I want you all to remember when you go to the polls here in Nevada, what political party supported the president to make sure we have the tools necessary to protect the American people and which political party didn't," Bush said at the Heller event.