"We are on the path to the future – and we are not turning back," Mr. Bush said in an acceptance speech that brings an end to the Republican National Convention and launches the final eight-week dash for the White House.
"We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America, and nothing will hold us back," the president said.
Like the previous night's convention speakers, Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller, though in far less incendiary language, the president outlined the differences between Kerry and himself – on the Iraq war, Medicare reform, health care, education reforms, child tax credits and the marriage penalty.
"You face a choice," the president said from a specially built theater-in-the-round stage at New York's Madison Square Garden. "My opponent's policies are dramatically different from ours."
"His policies of tax and spend — of expanding government rather than expanding opportunity — are the policies of the past," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush said Kerry has proposed more than $2 trillion in new spending – "and that's a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts."
The president said Kerry and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards had both voted against $87 billion in aid for "troops doing battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. When asked to explain his vote, the senator (Kerry) said, 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.' Then he said he was "proud of that vote."
Thursday's speech brought to an end a convention carefully scripted to present Mr. Bush as a steady, decisive leader who can be trusted to protect the nation from terrorists – while John Kerry can't.
In a ferocious counterattack after a week of GOP criticism, the Massachusetts senator called the wartime president and vice president unfit to lead the nation.
"I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who have refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq," he said in remarks prepared for a midnight campaign appearance in Ohio.
Kerry won five military medals in the Vietnam War; Bush was stateside in the National Guard and Cheney's five draft-era deferments kept him out of the service.
The president placed the Sept. 11 attacks that scarred this city front and center in his speech, just as he has throughout his campaign.
"In the heart of this great city, we saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning," Mr. Bush said. "We saw the bravery of rescuers grow with danger. We learned of passengers on a doomed plane who died with a courage that frightened their killers."
The president was introduced by a video that stirred memories of Sept. 11 and credited him with "the heart of a president."
Prior to that, New York Gov. George Pataki praised Mr. Bush as a man of "supreme guts and rightness," the qualities necessary to
protect the country after Sept. 11.
In his speech, the president used optimistic language reminiscent of Ronald Reagan: "Since 2001, Americans have been given hills to climb, and found the strength to climb them. Now, because we have made the hard journey, we can see the valley below."
He sought to project that optimism on an issue that remains a top source of anxiety for many Americans, the economy, and he said his tax cuts were responsible.
And less than a week after he said the war on terrorism was not winnable, Mr. Bush vowed: "We will prevail."
"We have fought the terrorists across the earth, not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake," he said.
He did not, however, mention Osama bin Laden, the still-at-large al Qaeda leader blamed for the Sept.11 attacks.
The president spoke in unusually personal terms about grieving over soldiers who have died in wars on his watch.
"I've held the children of the fallen, who are told their dad or mom is a hero, but would rather just have their dad or mom," Mr. Bush said. "And I have met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers — to offer encouragement to me."
Mr. Bush did not mention his father's presidency, which was cut short after one term. Instead, he said his father, George H.W. Bush, had served "at the side of another great American, Ronald Reagan" as vice president for eight years. His father and mother watched from a VIP box in Madison Square Garden.
With public opinion polls showing the race a toss-up, the president was spending only 24 hours in the convention city, in a state that appears a lock for his opponent, Mr. Bush was leaving after his speech for his 34th trip to Pennsylvania. It was one of four states he will visit on Friday, signaling the breakneck pace he plans to keep until Nov. 2.
Protests continued throughout the city – and even inside the convention hall. Two protesters, in separate incidents, were removed from the Madison Square Garden floor after starting to heckle Mr. Bush during his speech.
Earlier, about 100 anti-Bush demonstrators staged a quick, loud and well-organized protest at Grand Central Terminal during Thursday's rush hour, unfurling banners and colorful balloons that called on the president to do more in the fight against AIDS. Nineteen people were arrested after they refused police orders to leave.
Arrests for the week number more than 1,800, far surpassing those made in much more violent circumstances at Chicago's 1968 Democratic convention.
A judge ordered the immediate release of nearly 500 protesters, then fined the city for refusing to comply with his order.