President Bush is campaigning in the key Midwest swing state of Missouri, defending the U.S. invasion of Iraq against criticism from Democratic challenger John Kerry.
President Bush came to this rural part of southeast Missouri after more than 10,000 people here signed a petition asking him to visit because no president had ever come to Poplar Bluff.
"I get a lot of invitations. I've never gotten one with 10,000 signatures on it. But I was somewhat surprised when we choppered over her because it looks like there is a lot more people than 10,000 who have come today."
This is the president's 21st visit to Missouri, a state he won four years ago by just three percentage points. Both campaigns are pushing hard for votes in the state. Missouri public opinion polls taken before last week's Republican convention showed the president with a four-point lead over Senator Kerry.
President Bush told supporters packed into a rainy Poplar Bluff park that he is making the nation safer by staying on the offensive against terrorists and striking them abroad so Americans do not have to face them at home.
"See, free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies which no longer feed resentments and breed violence for export. Free governments in the Middle East will fight terrorists instead of harboring them," he said.
The president again criticized Democratic challenger John Kerry for voting to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein and then voting against an $87 billion supplemental appropriation last year to fund U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"After voting for the war but against funding it, after saying he would have voted for the war even knowing everything we know today, my opponent woke up this morning with new campaign advisers and yet another new position," he said. "Suddenly he's against it again. No matter how many times Senator Kerry changes his mind, it was right for America then and it's right for America now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power."
President Bush spends the night in Kansas City before a bus tour of Missouri Tuesday and a visit to Florida Wednesday to inspect the damage from Hurricane Frances.