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Bush says spirits high
US President George W. Bush has paid a rare visit to the press cabin aboard Air Force One to express optimism about his prospects and dismiss polls showing Democrat John Kerry won their third debate.
"The debate phase of the campaign is over and now it's a sprint to the finish," Bush said. "I'm excited about it. My spirits are high. I'm enthusiastic about my chances."
Bush, joined by Arizona Senator John McCain, spoke on what was only his third visit to the Air Force One press cabin since he took office in January 2001, as the Bush campaign sought to reassure Republican supporters after post-debate polls indicated Kerry won the last debate on Wednesday night in Tempe, Arizona.
"The voters will decide. They'll decide on November 2 who they want to be the president," Bush said on the Air Force One flight from Arizona to Las Vegas on Thursday.
With 19 days to go before the election, Bush was running dead-even in national opinion polls and looking to gain some momentum after the debates.
Bush-Cheney communications director Nicolle Devenish told reporters Bush went back to the press cabin because "he won a decisive victory last night and he was feeling great about the victory and he wanted to spend some time with the White House press corps."
Republican supporters said he needed to do it.
"Only the president could spin his performance, and I think there's a recognition that he needed to put a good face on these debates and put them behind him," said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist in Washington.
In speeches to thousands of enthusiastic supporters in Las Vegas and Reno, and later in Central Point, Oregon, Bush joked about his folksy speaking ability, saying Americans were used to it.
"They know my blunt way of speaking. I get that from Mom. They know I sometimes mangle the English language. I get that from Dad. Americans also know that I tell you exactly what I'm going to do and I keep my word," he said.
Bush is trailing in the polls in Oregon, a state he lost in 2000. He addressed about 15,000 supporters and criticised Kerry for voting to oppose the Healthy Forest Initiative aiming at reducing the threat of wildfires by allowing thinning of trees, a policy environmentalists criticised.
"My opponent says he's in touch with the West but sometimes I think he means western Massachusetts," Bush said.
Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot questioned the methodology of the snap polls that judged Kerry the winner of the Wednesday debate. The Bush camp thought the president gave his best performance.
He predicted any boost Kerry got from the debates would be temporary. Kerry gained ground on Bush in the polls after their first debate on September 30.
"I think he got some style points. We should acknowledge honestly that he is glib and he's accomplished and verbose," Racicot said.
Many in the Bush camp were annoyed at Kerry for stressing Vice President Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter in trying to puncture Bush's argument for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
McCain, who counts Kerry as a friend on the other side of the aisle, said Kerry's remark was inappropriate particularly because it was not in response to a question.
"I don't think it helped Kerry, in my opinion, because I don't think people like that," McCain said.
Kerry issued a statement that he was "trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue." The Bush camp was sceptical and Devenish called it a "crass, below-the-belt political strategy."