Statesboro, Ga. President Bush has for months cast the midterm elections as a choice about just two issues: taxes and terrorism. Now, with polls predicting bleak results for Republicans, he is trying to fire up his party by decrying gay marriage.
"For decades, activist judges have tried to redefine America by court order," Bush said Monday. "Just this last week in New Jersey, another activist court issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and should be defended."
The line earned Bush by far his most sustained applause at a rally of 5,000 people aimed at boosting former GOP Rep. Max Burns' effort to unseat a Democratic incumbent. In this conservative rural corner of eastern Georgia, even children jumped to their feet alongside their parents to cheer and clap for nearly 30 seconds - a near-eternity in political speechmaking.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be given all the benefits of married couples, leaving it up to the state Legislature to decide whether to extend those rights under the structure of marriage or something else.
One alternative, civil unions, is an idea Bush supports. But he ignored that on the way to portraying the New Jersey decision as the kind of thing America should do without.
The gay-marriage theme became a staple in Bush's political remarks on Thursday, the day after the New Jersey ruling on a touchstone issue for religious conservatives who are crucial to Republican electoral calculations. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said it was added merely to respond to the ruling - not because his other messages were failing to connect.
But the lines, repeated to great enthusiasm at a second rally later Monday in Texas, mark one of the only substantive changes in the president's stump speech as he turns from raising money for Republican candidates to encouraging the GOP faithful to vote Nov. 7.
After campaigning for Burns, who is trying to win back the seat conservative Democrat John Barrow took from him in 2004, Bush flew to the district vacated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who resigned in June amid a series of investigations of his fundraising activities.
Organizers said Bush's appearance drew more than 6,000 to support Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' write-in campaign to replace DeLay.