Bush extols military service and expedites citizenship
President Bush celebrated Independence Day in this political battleground state today, extolling the virtues of military service before a flag-waving crowd while working to improve the re-election prospects of a freshman Republican lawmaker who has become a target of Democrats trying to take control of the House.
In a speech in front of the Jackson County Courthouse here this morning, Mr. Bush also announced an executive order allowing about 15,000 active-duty members of the military who are not citizens to apply for expedited naturalization.
”Thousands of our men and women in uniform were born in other countries and now spend each day in honorable service to their adopted land,” Mr. Bush said. ”Many of them are still waiting for the chance to become American citizens.”
Mr. Bush’s visit to West Virginia, which could prove important in the 2004 presidential contest, began about 10 a.m., when his helicopter landed in the front yard of Mabel Chapman, 81, in Ripley. Mr. Bush kissed Ms. Chapman on the cheek and signed her T-shirt.
Wearing a white Western-style shirt and dark slacks and flanked by a parade stand full of veterans, Mr. Bush spoke about 20 minutes at the courthouse, criticizing again the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional in public schools because the phrase ”under God” violates the separation of church and state.
”No authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation under God,” Mr. Bush said. The line drew strong applause from the audience of a few thousand people, who minutes before had emphasized the words ”under God” as they recited the pledge.
Saluting the Fourth of July, Mr. Bush said, ”All Americans can draw a straight line from the free lives we lead today to that one moment, when the world changed forever. From that day in 1776, freedom has had a home, and freedom has had a defender.”
Ripley, a town of about 3,400 people near the border with Ohio, is known for its robust Fourth of July celebrations, but the trip also had clear political overtones for Mr. Bush.
The state has traditionally been heavily Democratic, but it voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 amid widespread concern about the environmental and energy policies of his opponent, Al Gore, then the vice president. Through decisions that include new tariffs on imported steel, Mr. Bush has been working to solidify support in industrial states like West Virginia, which may prove critical in a close presidential race and could be crucial this year in the fight to control Congress.
The Congressional district that includes Ripley has one of the most closely watched House races, between the freshman Republican, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, and the man she narrowly defeated two years ago, Jim Humphreys, a rich lawyer who spent more than $6 million of his own money on that contest. Democrats view Ms. Capito as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House.
Today, Ms. Capito appeared with Mr. Bush, introducing him as a ”very good friend of West Virginia.”
In comments reported on Saturday in The Charleston Gazette, the state Republican chairman, Kris Warner, bluntly explained the reason for the president’s trip: ”You look at the national map, and you look at the electoral votes, there are certain counties that are down to the precinct where the president has to win. Jackson County is one of those. It’s crucial to his re-election in 2004 and Shelley Moore Capito’s election in November.”
While West Virginia is overwhelmingly Democratic, it is also socially conservative in some places.
Before Mr. Bush arrived, the Rev. Jack Miller of the West Ripley Baptist Church, offered a prayer to the crowd in which he complained that ”we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of multiculturalism” and that ”we have been forced to honor sexual deviance in the name of freedom of expression.”
Mr. Bush, however, struck a different tone in his speech. ”All are created equal, and all are meant to be free,” he said. ”There is no American race; there’s only an American creed.”
Correction: July 9, 2002, Tuesday An article on Friday about a visit by President Bush to Ripley, W.Va., misidentified the newspaper that first reported comments by the state Republican chairman, Kris Warner, on political reasons for the trip. It was The Charleston Daily Mail, not The Gazette. Autor: Richard A. Oppel Jr.