At RNC, Bush Says 'We Are Making Progress'; Kerry Fights Back At Late-Night Rally

President touts national security record, lays out domestic plans.

NEW YORK — The race is on. On Thursday night George W. Bush formally accepted the Republican nomination with a speech that outlined his agenda for the next four years. After vowing to create jobs, reform the tax code and improve the public schools, Bush returned to the overwhelming focus of the convention: national security.

The president's speech, however, had a different tone than much of what had come before at the Republican National Convention, and not just because it was delivered from a different location — a circular stage assembled overnight in the center of Madison Square Garden. Although John Kerry came in for some abuse, it was fairly mild, and although the war on terror and the war in Iraq were prominent elements, for much of the speech they took a backseat to domestic issues.

Nearly two-thirds of the speech was spent setting forth the president's objectives for privatizing portions of the Social Security system, increasing home ownership, providing additional access to community college and job training, simplifying the tax code and improving the educational system. The overall message: "We are making progress. And there is more to do."

Yet the events of September 11 were never far from view. How could they be after the introduction of Bush by New York Governor George Pataki, who spent almost his entire address on the events of that day, and a video montage of Bush's visit to New York in the aftermath of the attacks? "Since that day, I wake up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country," Bush stated. "I will never relent in defending America — whatever it takes."

As for the war in Iraq, Bush was unyielding. "Do I forget the lessons of September 11th and take the word of a madman, or do I take action to defend our country? Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time." While discussing the war in Iraq, the president was interrupted twice by protestors who both times were quickly drowned out with chants of, "USA! USA! USA!"

Unlike prior nights of the convention, in which John Kerry was treated as a piñata, the president spent relatively little time on his opponent, dismissing him as a man out of step with the values of the country with consistently inconsistent positions on securing the nation. After characterizing Kerry's views as representing "the politics of the past," Bush claimed, "We are on the path to the future, and we're not turning back."

In an unusual political decision, Kerry provided an instant response to Bush. As the president concluded his speech amidst falling balloons in New York, the Massachusetts senator officially kicked off the campaign home stretch with a midnight rally in Springfield, Ohio. Kerry took aim at what he called four days of "anger and insults from the Republicans."

"For four years, George Bush has stubbornly misled America and taken us in the wrong direction," Kerry told the gathering, while rolling off a laundry list of indictments against Bush's record at home and abroad.

But he directed most of his ire at claims from the vice president that he was unfit to serve as president. "For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as commander-in-chief," Kerry said. "Here is my answer to them. I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled America into Iraq."

Get ready for more of this. The election is in exactly 60 days.