COLUMBIA - President Bush, on a one-day tour of three Southern states, stopped in South Carolina's capital city Thursday to provide words of support for Republicans Lindsay Graham and Mark Sanford.
The president's visit came 12 days before the state's general election and brought out a slew of state GOP leaders to back Mr. Graham's run to replace retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond and Mr. Sanford's bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges.
An estimated 5,000 people gathered in an airplane hangar at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport to welcome the president with screams and cheers. He arrived from North Carolina aboard Air Force One about noon on his way to Alabama and then his Texas ranch.
With a banner showing South Carolina's crescent moon and palmetto tree behind him, Mr. Bush mixed his message with support for Republicans, humor and reminders of America's battle against terrorism.
Mr. Bush urged his audience to support Mr. Sanford, who the president said would eliminate the partisan politics in South Carolina's Statehouse by challenging the status quo.
"Mark and I share a philosophy," he said. "It's a philosophy that's starts with this concept: Every child can learn.
"You've got to have a governor who's willing to challenge the bureaucracy and trust the local people to chart a path of excellence for every child. We believe in local control of schools."
Mr. Bush praised Mr. Graham and the man he's trying to replace.
"(Mr. Thurmond) came by the other day and we were talking about an important issue, and he said early December is his 100th birthday. I couldn't tell if he was hinting or not, so I took the bait and invited him over to the White House for his 100th birthday party," the president said, receiving a long round of laughter.
Mr. Bush criticized the Democrat-controlled Senate for waffling on how to handle the nation's economy. He praised Mr. Graham's ideas on making tax cuts permanent and said the congressman's plan would put money back in the pockets of South Carolinians.
Turning his talk to terrorism, the president said he needed Mr. Graham's support in the Senate to create a Department of Homeland Security, bringing several federal agencies under one roof.
He took the opportunity Thursday to reinforce his desire to remove President Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and sent a message to the United Nations, which has been hesitant to back the United States.
"You can be the United Nations or the League of Nations," Mr. Bush said. "It's your choice.
"If the U.N. doesn't deal with him ... the United States will. It doesn't matter how long it takes. There's no calendar on my desk," he said, rousing the crowd.
Addressing veterans in the audience, he said America is involved in a war unlike any other.
"In the new war of the 21st century, we're the battleground," he said. But "out of their evil done to America, good can come."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.