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Crowd lauds Bush for conviction, 'his word'

A massive rally for President George W. Bush in Central Point became the largest single event ever held at the fairgrounds, attracting a crowd that voiced its appreciation for the religious and moral values of the administration.

He doesn't believe in same-sex marriage, he's against abortion and he's a Christian ' that's very important, said Prospect resident Laura Ralph.

Republican officials pegged the number attending the rally at 15,000, although Expo Director Chris Borovansky estimated it was 9,000 to 10,000. In either case, it was the largest-ever single event at the Expo. A rally for John Kerry in August drew an estimated 6,000 supporters.

A total of 16,000 tickets had been distributed for Thursday's event.

So many people left the fairgrounds after the rally that one lane of Peninger Road was closed to vehicles to allow pedestrians to get back to their cars.

— From time to time during the president's talk, the crowd chanted four more years! and yelled flip-flop in reference to Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry.

First lady Laura Bush sat behind her husband, flanked by former Oregon Congressman Bob Smith and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Joining them on the stage were Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith and 2nd District Congressman Greg Walden.

Molly Bordonaro, Northwest regional chair for the Bush campaign, told the crowd how important Oregon is in the president's quest for re-election.

Southern Oregon has got to make the difference, she said.

When Bush told the audience, I keep my word, Jacksonville resident Dave Johnson remarked, That's what I like about him.

He said he thinks the president is doing the best job possible for the country.

He may not be the best talker, but he's a darn good president, Johnson said.

Applegate Christian Fellowship pastor Rev. Peter John Courson gave an invocation, urging onlookers to pray for the president and to bless the troops.

In Jesus' name, thank you for being here, he said.

During the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd emphasized the words under God.

Applegate resident Tustin Ellison, who said he's as conservative as Attila the Hun, said he doesn't agree with everything the president has done, but supports the invasion of Iraq.

Despite some reservations about the president, Ellison said, he would never vote for Kerry. I support Bush because he is the lesser of two evils.

Not everyone attending supported Bush. One protester who obtained a ticket for the event stood about 50 feet from the president.

Medford resident Joe Suste, an Air Force veteran, taped a Bush sticker over his mouth and wore a T-shirt with the words Stop Secret Arrests and Stop Torture written on it. He was escorted out of the event by security personnel after they snatched his ticket from him.

His wife, who couldn't be identified because she was also escorted away, said I'm amazed that you're not allowed to have freedom of anything.

At least a half-dozen people used Bush signs to block Suste from the view of the president.

The enemy's going to find its way in, said Gold Hill resident Jonathan Jackson, who helped block the offending T-shirt from the eyes of the president with other members of the Wimer Christian Fellowship.

Medford teacher Tania Tong said she and two friends were removed from the rally for wearing T-shirts with the slogan Protect our civil liberties and buttons opposing Ballot Measure 36, which would prohibit gay marriage.

I am kind of freaked out because I was denied my rights, she said.

The women said they did not intend to protest. I wanted to see if I would be able to make a statement that I feel is important, but not offensive, in a rally for my president, Janet Voorhies, 48, a teacher in training, told The Associated Press.

We chose this phrase specifically because we didn't think it would be offensive or degrading or obscene, said Tong, 34, a special education teacher.

Others saw the event as a chance to be part of history.

Medford resident Bonnie Nelson said she had difficulty in seeing the stage from her vantage point, but added, I don't mind. When will I ever get the opportunity to be 100 yards from the president?

Medford resident Rochelle Lovlin said she supported the president because he conveys a sense of morality.

He knows how to quote scripture better than Kerry, she said.

Medford resident Linda Merica agreed with Lovlin's comments, saying, The most important thing about a leader is their character.

But she doesn't think Bush has been the perfect president. I don't think Bush has done as well as Reagan, but he's so far ahead of Kerry.

Grants Pass resident Jytte Stensgaard shook the president's hand, telling him, We love you both.

Born and raised in Denmark, Stensgaard said her country was too involved in the day-to-day lives of its citizens, making the country less prosperous than the United States.

I believe in the free enterprise system, she said.

Prospect resident Delores Roes said the president conveys a sense of heart and conviction when he speaks.

I think he's a man of his word, she said.

On issues facing America

Here are some highlights of President Bush's speech in Central Point on Thursday:

Terrorism: Bush stressed his unrelenting resolve to fight terrorism before it reaches American shores.

We're staying on the offensive, and we're striking against terrorism abroad so we do not have to fight them at home, he said.

He chided Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry for voting against &

36;87 billion in support for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Health care: Bush charged that his opponent's proposed health insurance coverage plan would be the largest expansion ever of government health care. He said some 22 million people would enroll in the plan, including about 80 percent who would be included in a government plan similar to Medicaid.

National security: Bush said Kerry would ask for international approval before going to war against another nation.

The senator said last night we have to pass some international truth standard, Bush said. The truth is we should never turn America's national security decisions over to an international body.

Domestic policy: Bush pledged to help small businesses by cutting unneeded regulations, keeping taxes low, eliminating frivolous lawsuits and improving college opportunities for workers.

He called for Congress to pass his energy plan to create jobs, which he said encourages conservation and use of renewable resources and new technology.

' Paul Fattig

Bush supporters line the stage where the president spoke to thousands on Thursday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell