WASHINGTON, July 20 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush appealed directly to the hearts, souls and wallets of Middle America Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a town of just over 120,000 people in the center of a battleground state.
Interspersed among the standard talking points of his stump speech, Bush talked about values, the role of religion, calls for peace and support for the state's farmers and small businesses.
"I came to the people of this state and said I will work to open up markets for Iowa farmers," Bush said of his 2000 bid for the presidency.
"(I said) we'll promote ethanol, alternative sources of energy. We have done that. And the second thing I said is we will work to open up markets for Iowa farmers. ... We're good at growing soybeans, we're good at growing corn, and we're now selling it all around the world."
Bush's question-and-answer period with Cedar Rapid residents came as Democrats gear up for next week's national convention in Boston, sucking the wind out of many other attempts at newsmaking.
But the administration said it was not going to be affected by the lack of attention. "The president is going to continue going around the country, talking about the clear choices that the American people face," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Tuesday.
The values Bush laid out Tuesday -- pro-growth, pro-business, pro-farmer and faith-centered -- were tailor-made for the audience.
"I'm not a lawyer, you'll be happy to hear. That's -- that's the other team. This is the pro-small-business team," Bush said in a dig at Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a former trial attorney.
Talk about farmers and entrepreneurs gave Bush the perfect opportunity to tweak his Democratic opponents about their trade policies, which Republicans have said are patently protectionist.
"The temptation is to say, well, you know, we better shutter down. We better have economic isolationism. (But) that would be bad for Iowa."
Bush also promised to help Iowans compete in the global market, saying he would "make sure we have a level playing field for Iowa's entrepreneurs and farmers."
He warned that his opponents' plan to increase taxation rates would eventually hurt all Americans, especially small-business owners who were taxed at individual rates.
"In the campaign you'll hear, 'We're going only to tax the rich.' ... (But) if you can't raise enough by taxing the rich, guess who gets to pay next? Yes, the not-rich. That's all of us," he said to laughter.
Bush mentioned another fulfilled campaign promise to Iowa's citizens: Medicare reform. Bush said that before leaving for Cedar Rapids, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told him, "When you go to Iowa, remind them of a promise you made and I made, and we kept, and that was reform Medicare.
"We reformed Medicare not only to help our seniors," Bush said. " ... We also reformed Medicare to make sure that Iowa's rural hospitals are treated fairly."
Bush included the central themes of his stump speech -- calls for reform of the healthcare, medical liability and tort systems, touting his education reform, the growing economy, and calling for a new energy policy and continued vigilance in homeland security and the war on terror.
But he also included a focus on values and religion, an area in which he expects to score with voters more than Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Between Bush and Kerry, there are "some clear differences on values," McClellan said Tuesday.
"And so the president will be highlighting some of those differences and choices that the American people face."
One of these values is a bolstered sense of the importance of the war in Iraq. With the public's support for the war in Iraq steadily dropping, Bush continues to portray the war as a necessary and ultimately a humanitarian action.
"He made the choice, not the United States of America," Bush said of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The action was part of a policy that has advanced the cause of freedom, Bush said.
"Four more years, and America will be safer, and the world will be more peaceful," Bush promised.
It was a focus on compassionate conservatism without mentioning the catchphrase. "You need to be proud of the fact that your nation liberated a country so that many young girls now go to school for the first time in their lives," he told the crowd regarding the United States' role in Afghanistan.
The speech also touched on his administration's efforts to allow the government to fund faith-based organizations.
Bush promised to continue pushing this agenda "so that we help save more lives and provide more hope for the American people."
Conversation participant Dr. Jim Bell, who runs a free clinic in Cedar Rapids, served as an example of the positive influence faith-based organizations can have on society.
"We believe that our greatest measure of success is seeing a changed life for Christ," Bell told Bush.
"I think the most important thing for us is that we know that we have an administration behind us, is very sentimental towards what we do," Bell later added.
"I'll tell you why (I'm sentimental)," Bush responded, banking on his theme as the faith-based optimist in the race. "Because we can change America, one heart and one soul at a time."
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