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Inside Politics

Bush appeals to Catholic voters

President raises money for GOP

From Jill Dougherty

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Bush and the battleground states.

The DNC rallied partisans, but did not have much effect on opinion polls.
America Votes 2004
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- Appealing to Roman Catholic voters, President Bush on Tuesday touted his faith-based initiative and conservative stands on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bush's comments to the Knights of Columbus drew a rousing response from members of the world's largest Roman Catholic fraternal service organization.

"The Knights are soldiers in the armies of compassion," Bush said to the group's international convention in Dallas, Texas. "You're helping this nation build a culture of life in which the sick are comforted, the aged are honored, the immigrant is welcomed and the weak and vulnerable are never overlooked."

"You have a friend in this administration. You have somebody who wants to work with you to change America for the better."

Bush began his visit to Dallas with a fund-raiser that netted $1.6 million for the Republican National Committee. The Texas stop is part of a three-day trip that is scheduled to include an election campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa and a visit to a farm in Le Sueur, Minnesota, where Bush is expected to highlight a conservation reserve program.

Bush, who entered the hall to chants of "four more years," made his appeal to the Catholic leaders by noting his support for a ban on a late-term abortion procedure called "partial-birth" abortion by its opponents. Bush called the procedure a "brutal practice."

The new law, now being challenged in the courts, "is urgently needed, and my administration will vigorously defend it," he said.

Bush also noted that he had signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allows people who kill a pregnant woman to be prosecuted in the deaths of both the mother and the fetus.

"Common sense and conscience tells us that when an expectant mother is killed, two lives are ended, and the criminal should answer for both crimes," Bush said.

Bush also used his speech to champion his faith-based initiative, which would allow government money to flow to religious organizations that provide social service programs, such as the Knights. The president complained that the initiative is being thwarted by what he termed "a suspicious culture."

"I believe one of the most effective ways our government can help those in need is to help the charities and community groups that are doing God's work every day," he said. "I believe government needs to stand on the side of faith-based groups, not against faith-based groups, when they come to saving lives."

On a personal note, the president also noted that the Knights were founded in New Haven, Connecticut -- the city where he was born -- and that his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is a member of the group.

"Jeb knows, as I do, that your works of mercy are making our society more compassionate, changing the lives of millions of citizens," he said.

The appearance of Bush, a Methodist, before the Knights was part of an effort by his campaign to appeal to Roman Catholics, an important constituency in a number of key battleground states.

His November opponent, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, is Catholic but, taking a position contrary to hierarchy of his church, supports abortion rights. He voted against both the ban on the late-term abortion procedure and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

Kerry also opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which Bush and the Knights of Columbus support, though Kerry has said he opposes same-sex marriage itself.

With five cardinals looking on, Bush was introduced by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who thanked the president for "restoring moral integrity to the office of president."

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