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Bush: Keep a conservative in White House

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  • President Bush calls on next president to carry on conservative principles
  • President staying neutral in GOP nomination race, spokesman says
  • Bush thanks conservatives for sticking with him like they did President Reagan
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush, in a rousing speech to fellow conservatives, exhorted his ideological cohorts to "fight for victory and keep the White House in 2008."

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President Bush thanks supporters Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

The two-term U.S. leader, who addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, leaves office next year and said it is important that the next president continues to reflect the conservative political principles he represents.

Speaking a day after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney quit the race to succeed him, Bush didn't mention the names of the two remaining Republican candidates, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

White House spokesman
Scott Stanzel said after the speech that Bush has "stayed studiously neutral" in the presidential race.

The president's speech Friday was not a call for the party to rally around McCain, who holds a commanding lead in the GOP delegate count after Super Tuesday, Stanzel said.

"We have had good debates, and soon we will have a nominee who will carry the conservative banner into this election and beyond," Bush said.

Bush's address highlighted his conservative credentials in similar language to that McCain used when he spoke to the same group Thursday. Video Watch Bush push conservative programs »

McCain noted his support for Bush's policies, including permanent tax cuts, the appointment of conservative judges such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito and his early call for the addition of troops in Iraq as part of the so-called surge.

Bush on Friday claimed vindication for that Iraq strategy, saying he stuck with the surge in spite of critics who called it "a well-managed defeat."

"A year after I ordered the surge of forces, high-profile terrorist attacks in Iraq are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down. U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key al Qaeda leaders and operatives," he said.

About the judiciary, Bush defended his appointments. "I say we need judges who respect our values, do not follow the political winds and revere the plain meaning of our Constitution. We need more judges like John Roberts and Sam Alito," he said.

And on tax cuts: "On matters relating to our economy, our record is clear. You and I succeeded in cutting taxes," Bush told the conservative group.

Bush said he hopes his successor will build upon what he considers to be his accomplishments in Iraq and on taxes and the judiciary.

"I'm absolutely confident, with your help we will elect a president who shares our principles. As we take on the challenges, we must be guided by the philosophy that has brought us success. Our policies are working," he said.

"The stakes in November are high. This is an important election. Prosperity and peace are in the balance. So with confidence in our vision and faith in our values, let us go forward, fight for victory and keep the White House in 2008."

Bush called his presidency "a joyous experience" and said he wasn't worried about how history would judge him, saying President Reagan was hearing near the end of his second term the same things Bush is hearing now.

"Ronald Reagan was called a 'warmonger,' 'an amiable dunce,' a movie actor detached from reality." Bush said. "Yet within a few years after President Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall came down, the evil empire collapsed, the Cold War was won.

"And over the years a strange thing has happened. A lot of people who spent the 1980s criticizing President Reagan now tell us they were with him all along."

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He thanked the conservative crowd for sticking with him like they did Reagan.

"You were with him all along. And over the past seven years, you've been with me. I appreciate your support," Bush said as the crowd responded with chants of "four more years." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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