Enquirer News Update   -   Updated 6:40 p.m.

Thousands rally for Bush

By Gregory Korte
and Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writers

President George W. Bush addresses a crowd of thousands.
(Michael E. Keating photo)

Kerry rally
Democrat faithful rallied on Fountain Square downtown prior to the rally for President George Bush.
(Michael E. Keating photo)

Photo gallery
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Bush's remarks
Read the full transcript

See the video
9News video of Bush's speech

President Bush rallied a raucous crowd of Cincinnati supporters today at Great American Ball Park, telling them that Sen. John F. Kerry has "entered the flip-flop Hall of Fame" for his position on Iraq.

Bush's speech - just 32 hours before polls open in Ohio at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday - was his last attempt to turn out the strong Republican base he needs in Ohio to win its 20 electoral votes, and probably a second term.

Republicans need an unprecedented turnout of conservative voters in southwest Ohio in record numbers to combat the hundreds of thousands of newly registered Democrats in the northern part of the state.

The campaign said it gave out 60,000 tickets and 47,000 attended. The ballpark holds 43,000 for baseball, but the moon deck, the diamond seats and most of the outfield was empty. A few thousand supporters gathered around the infield.

Bush took the stage about 8 p.m.

"America needs strong, determined, optimistic leadership, and I'm ready to get the job done for four more years," he said, speaking from a podium near where second base would be.

"I understand how important it is for the American president to lead with clarity and purpose," he said. Only occasionally mentioning his opponent by name, he said it's important that the president not "shift with the wind" or govern by polls.

"I think it's fair to say consistency is not his strong suit," he said. "I look at an issue and take a principled position. My opponent looks at an issue and tries to take every side. And the people of Ohio know the difference."

With little to say that hasn't been said in hundreds of campaign speeches over the past year, Bush's focus was mostly on firing up his supporters.

"I want to thank the people who have been putting up the signs, and making the phone calls, and doing the hard work to turn out the vote next Tuesday," Bush told the crowd. His Hamilton County campaign chairman, Greg Hartmann, called the president the best get-out-the-vote tool a local campaign could ever have.

Stephen White, 20, a political science sophomore at Ohio State University, attended the rally with his uncle, Chuck White, of Madisonville.

"This being my first election, I actually feel like I'm a part of it, and the whole atmosphere here makes it 10 times better,'' said Stephen White.

It wasn't just the venue that gave the event a baseball theme. Campaign slogans flashed on scoreboards. Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, the U.S. Senator from Kentucky, met Air Force One at the airport. Reds owner Carl Lindner and broadcaster Marty Brennaman watched from bleachers behind the podium. .

Hall of Famer Johnny Bench gave the introduction.

"It's an honor for me as a catcher to introduce someone who knows how to give the right signals," Bench said. "We must re-elect George Bush for four more years."

Bush was last in the region on Sept. 27, when he led the largest event of the campaign, a rally of 50,000 people at the former Voice of America park in West Chester Township.

Ohio is considered a tossup as the elections comes down to the wire. Both candidates have campaigned extensively in Ohio - Kerry was in Dayton Sunday morning and returns Monday night for a rally in Cleveland.

On Fountain Square on Sunday, several hundred supporters of Kerry held a rally, while hundreds of volunteers went door-to-door in the final weekend of the campaign.

His running mate, John Edwards, will join Cincinnati.volunteers Monday afternoon at campaign headquarters, 1527 Madison Road, Walnut Hills.