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President Bush was welcomed by thousands of screaming supporters late Wednesday in Salt Lake City, where he was to spend the night before addressing the American Legion national conference this morning.

The president touched down in Air Force One just before 9 p.m. at the Utah Air National Guard base to a blaring recording of the soundtrack from the movie "Air Force One."

He stood in the spotlight at the top of the 747's stairs as a crowd estimated between 2,000 to 3,500 people applauded, cheered and shouted they loved him.

Waving as he walked down the stairs, Bush strode to a microphone and sounded anti-terror themes he has repeated during 5 1/2 years in office.

"These are challenging times," Bush said after thanking the crowd for staying up after their bedtimes. "I wish I could report to you all is well. But there's still an enemy that wants to harm us because of what we stand for."

Bush offered a familiar theme he has used to counter flagging public support of the war: Defeating terrorism hinges on "success" in Iraq.

"Iraq is the central front in this war on terror," he said. "If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities. We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century. I firmly believe we'll succeed."

A receiving line of dignitaries included Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.; Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett; Reps. Rob Bishop, Jim Matheson and Chris Cannon; Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert and Col. Denise Schofield, wing commander for the Utah Air National Guard.

After his remarks, Bush worked the rope line for about seven minutes, shaking hands and hugging people on the other side of a barricade while surrounded by a wall of Secret Service officers.

A motorcade ferried the president to the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City past a few hundred supporters who lined the curbs in front of other hotels and motels. This was Bush's first overnight stay in Utah during his presidency.

The enthusiastic pro-Bush crowd was in clear contrast to the scene earlier in the day, when thousands of protesters gathered around Salt Lake City-County Building denounced the administration for the war in Iraq and other policies. That crowd was rallied by Mayor Rocky Anderson.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush's speech today would focus on progress in the war on terror. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to the American Legion on Tuesday, pressing their argument that the United States' armed struggle against terror is similar to the global struggle against fascism during World War II.

Bush was scheduled to make a courtesy visit to LDS Church leaders before his American Legion appearance. He then will stop off for a few remarks at a fundraiser for Hatch before departing Utah around midday.

Before Air Force One touched down, a crowd of about 400 people gathered in downtown Salt Lake City at a pro-Bush rally organized by Republican Party officials. A low-key affair, people mostly came to hear members of Utah's congressional delegation speak and American Idol contender Carmen Rasmusen sing. They also came to show their support for American troops, the war in Iraq and the president.

"I grew up during the Vietnam war and saw how our soldiers were treated," said Michelle Harley-Lloyd, who added her family has deep military roots reaching back to the Civil War.

Humiliated by anti-war protests held throughout the day, the 46-year-old Roy woman said, "I wanted to let the world know there's another side to Utah."

A brass band and children's choir performed patriotic tunes as people waved placards that read: "Viva Bush," "United We Stand" and "Give War a Chance." Among the more strongly worded was the "Defeat Islamo-fascism" sign sported by an 11-year-old boy.

The affair was mostly partisan, with a lineup of speakers including Republicans Hatch, Bennett, Cannon, Bishop and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Most spoke in defense of Bush's war strategy.

"The duty of civilization is to civilize," said Cannon. "George Bush is a great president who is going to protect us and help us civilize the world."

Bennett took the opportunity to teach a history lesson, comparing Bush's unpopular decision to go to war with Roosevelt's decision to back England in World War II.

Roosevelt's adviser told him the prudent thing would be to support Hitler, because he was the more likely victor, but Roosevelt chose "the right thing to do," said Bennett. "The truly important presidential decisions are those filled with so many unknowable consequences that they can never be made on intellect alone."

Others took jabs at Salt Lake City's liberal mayor. Rally organizer and Salt Lake County GOP Chairman James Evans said of Anderson's decision to not seek re-election, "I look forward to helping him pack."

Just hours before, Anderson spoke from the same stage at an anti-Bush rally that drew thousands.

Joining in the later Anderson sniping was Robert Wright, 46, of Cottonwood Heights, who said, "the anti-Bush rally wasn't about ideals or freedom of expression," but a stunt to "catapult" Rocky to the national stage.

"He misled us for his personal gain. And he did a good job," said Wright.

The president's whirlwind tour of Salt Lake City


Time President Bush plans to spend meeting with LDS Church leaders this morning.


Length of the speech Bush will deliver to the American Legion Convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center. It will be broadcast live at 9:20 a.m. on KSL Channel 5, KSTU Channel 13, KTVX Channel 4, KUTV Channel 2, KCPW Radio, KSL Radio and KTTK Radio.


Total time the president is scheduled to spend in Salt Lake City, leaving around noon for Washington, D.C.