WARREN, MICH. -- President Bush and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, campaigned for congressional candidates across the nation's Rust Belt yesterday, speaking on issues that could spell the difference in determining control of the House and the Senate in the midterm election.
At fundraising receptions in Iowa and Michigan, Bush returned to "family values," denouncing a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples are guaranteed the rights and benefits of marriage. Clinton, speaking at a rally for Democratic congressional and state legislative candidates in Syracuse, N.Y., responded to Bush's recent characterization of the Democrats as "the party of cut and run" in Iraq.
For Bush, the court decision provided a fresh opportunity to speak to the heart of a cultural issue that motivates many conservative voters who have propelled him and other GOP candidates to victory in recent years - but whose enthusiasm for Bush and his party has been lagging, according to some opinion polls.
For Clinton, the rally was an opportunity to try to rebut a key element in GOP efforts to retain majorities in the House and the Senate - that Democrats would seek to withdraw U.S. troops before Iraq has been stabilized and its forces can take control.
Speaking in an airport hangar before several hundred Democrats, Clinton noted several veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the current conflict in Iraq running for Congress this year, including Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Army National Guard major who lost her legs in a helicopter crash in 2004.
"They can call us the 'cut and run' party all they want, but that's a pretty hard case to make when you look at Tammy Duckworth and our other veterans," Clinton said.
Then he added, to loud applause: "Stop and think is not the same as cut and run."
Clinton sharply criticized the record of Bush and the GOP Congress across a broad range of domestic issues. He said that under Bush, the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that President Richard M. Nixon could be described as "a communist compared to those people who are running our government down there."
Bush has largely kept his campaign speeches focused on economic growth and the need to succeed in Iraq - and the threat that a Democratic majority in the House and in the Senate would pose to each. But yesterday, he found a new campaign weapon in the New Jersey ruling.
"We believe in family values. We believe values are important. And we believe marriage is a fundamental institution of civilization," Bush said during a fundraiser at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. "Yesterday, in New Jersey, we had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage.
"I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman," he said, adding that a Republican Congress would keep it that way.
Bush spoke at a fundraising reception for state Sen. Jeff Lamberti, whom he called "Dave" several times during the speech. Lamberti is trying to unseat Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, one of the few incumbent Democrats considered vulnerable this year, and Republicans consider the race a priority. A Republican National Committee spokeswoman, Tracey Schmitt, said the reception raised $400,000 for Lamberti and the Iowa GOP campaign.
Bush then flew to Michigan, where he spoke at a fundraising reception for Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who is running behind the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow. The reception raised $700,000, Schmitt said.
James Gerstenzang and Ronald Brownstein write for the Los Angeles Times.