MARQUETTE, Mich. – President Bush (search) promoted himself as the champion of heartland American values Tuesday, taunting Democratic rival John Kerry (search) for his recent embrace by Hollywood and New York City celebrities.
Bush opened a two-day tour of three Midwestern states he lost in 2000 -- Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- and carefully targeted his travels Tuesday around Lake Superior (search) to appeal to conservative Democrats.
Aides said they viewed the region as fertile ground for a pitch on values and felt Bush had to respond after Kerry visited earlier this month and declared himself the guardian of "conservative values."
Bush's Michigan audience of political supporters groaned when Bush repeated Kerry's claim. "I know, I know. Those were his own words," the president said, contending that Kerry had been rated "the most liberal member of the Senate, although he didn't identify his source.
The president mocked Kerry's appearance last week at a New York fund raiser where one entertainer after another bashed Bush.
"The other day my opponent said, when he was with some entertainers from Hollywood, that they were the heart and soul of America," Bush said, drawing loud boos.
That response instantly turned to cheering when Bush said, "I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places like this, right here in Marquette."
Bush also took issue with Kerry's pronouncement this week that he and running mate John Edwards were proud of the fact that they opposed in the Senate the $87 billion aid package for Afghanistan and Iraq (search). Kerry said they had done so because "we knew the policy had to be changed."
"He's entitled to his view," Bush said. "But members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle and then vote against funding them, and then brag about it."
Kerry's campaign responded that Kerry had served in the Vietnam War and questions linger about Bush's wartime service in the Texas Air National Guard.
"Considering that George Bush actively avoided combat duty and has pursued policies that have made the nation less secure, he is on very shaky ground when it comes to questioning the commitment that Vietnam vet John Kerry has to our national security," said former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a Vietnam War veteran and frequent Kerry surrogate. "This is just more attack-dog politicking by an increasingly desperate, partisan White House."
Bush also sharpened his criticism of Edwards, picked as Kerry's running mate just one week ago.
"You cannot be pro-small business and pro-trial lawyer at the same time," Bush said, referring to Edwards' career as a plaintiff's attorney. "You have to choose. My opponent has made his choice, and he put him on the ticket."
Bush spoke a short distance from the shores of Lake Superior on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Hundreds of people lined the streets, craning their necks for a view of the president as his motorcade sped past.
A sign outside one restaurant read, "Welcome, President Bush, we pray for you daily." Another eatery on the lake printed up a yellow banner that said, "Welcome President Bush. Join us for our all-you-can-eat fish fry."
A few people flashed Bush thumbs-down signs. One held a sign that said "Respect the office, not the man."
There were more anti-Bush protesters in Duluth, Minn., Bush's second stop. Scores of them lined the streets as he breezed through, and opposition to the Iraq war was a common theme. One demonstrator held a sign that read, "Who would Jesus bomb?"
Duluth is the most heavily Democratic area of the state. The area voted 63 percent for Al Gore four years ago to 30 percent for Bush. The nearby iron ore mining range is unionized.
But in Minnesota as in Michigan, Bush basked in the raucous backing from thousands of supporters. Both rallies were a world away from Washington, a capital caught up in a report last week that was critical of the intelligence leading up to the war.
"By the looks of things, I'm in Bush-Cheney country," Bush told throngs of roaring supporters who packed an arena in Duluth. "Send us back to the White House for four more years!"
The audience responded with thunderous chants for just that -- "Four more years!"