President Bush almost didn't come to Bangor yesterday afternoon, unsure if he'd be welcome after a recent weekend at his family home in Kennebunkport.

"I forgot to make my bed," he said soon after taking the podium. But this didn't stop him from rallying thousands of supporters outside a hangar at Bangor International Airport.

Possibly his last stop in Vacationland before the election, a relaxed President Bush came "to ask for the vote." Support in the area was clear as Bush/Cheney '04 bumper-stickered cars came to a stand-still in traffic outside the airport three hours before Air Force One touched down. Even the local Exxon Station gas price sign replaced its advertisement for Coke 6-packs with letters spelling out "Welcome President Bush."

The audience needed tickets for the event, attainable only from an online form that required people to submit their social security numbers and drive to one of six ticket distribution centers in the state.

Despite the time-consuming ticket acquisition procedure, thousands of cars lined the fields surrounding the hangar where a spirited crowd awaited the President's arrival. To get to the hangar one had to go through a series of checkpoints, the last of which included airport-style metal detectors.

Just outside the entrance was a dumpster with a poster saying "Protesters here." While some protesters managed to heckle the President during the event, most remained in a designated area outside the first security checkpoint.

Flanked by billboard signs reading "4 More Years" and "Leadership Matters," and a Maine state flag the size of Massachusetts Hall, spectators included mothers and fathers with young children on their shoulders holding signs like "Veterans for Bush" or "Sportsmen for Bush," and seniors sitting in the bleachers. Dominating the entire scene was a mammoth American flag draped behind the stage.

Three security agents stood high atop the hangar roof, scanning the crowd and horizon with foot-long binoculars. Clearly armed helicopters circled the airport at low altitude.

While waiting for Bush the crowd was entertained by a country music group and the band, chorus, and cheerleaders from Bangor's John Bapst Memorial High School. The cheerleaders repeatedly pumped up the crowd with cries of "Red, white, blue!" The band provided interludes including an unusually heavy rendition of "God Bless America."

Then it was go time. As the speakers blared the stirring theme from Rudy, a sharply-dressed assistant placed the presidential seal on the podium, further fueling the audience's increasingly tense anticipation.

In what was, given all of the orchestrated build-up to Bush's arrival, an anticlimactic introduction, former Maine gubernatorial candidate Peter Cianchette called the President to the podium. Bush spent several minutes thanking numerous local groups including loggers and lobstermen before diving into his stump speech.

Roughly two-thirds of the speech concerned Iraq and the war on terror. Bush spoke of his relationship with Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq, with whom he had met earlier in the day. He boasted of his administration's efforts in dealing with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya and looked forward to the scheduled elections in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President echoed a number of points on domestic issues made in his convention speech, sometimes repeating lines verbatim from that address. He called the tax code a "complicated mess" and promised to pursue bipartisan tax reform in a second term. And in a somewhat disguised pitch to younger voters, he endorsed private Social Security accounts to ensure that younger generations have future financial stability.

The President also managed a few jabs at his opponent. He mocked John Kerry's "$2.2 trillion spending plan." And no Bush stump speech is complete without mentioning Kerry's phrase, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." He then said, "That's not how the people of Bangor speak."

The speech had its lighter moments as well. He said he chose Vice President Cheney "not because of his wavy hair, but because of his experience." He also mentioned how he "had a coke" with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi earlier in the week, who, according to Bush, happens to be quite the Elvis fan.

Five times the crowd broke into "Four more years!" chants?the most rousing coming after the President said, "If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."

After the speech, Bush went down to greet supporters, but was in the air heading back to Washington within the hour.

The President hopes to pick up at least one of Maine's electoral votes. As one of just two states to divide up its electoral votes proportionally, Maine gives two votes to the state's winner, and one vote for each of the two congressional districts. Al Gore captured all four in 2000, winning the competitive second district, which includes Bangor?by just 5,660 votes.

Look for coverage of a major Kerry campaign event in Maine in a future issue of the Orient.