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Bush express rolls through key state

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NORMAL, Ill. — Presidential nominee George W. Bush rode a bounce from the Republican convention through the key electoral state of Illinois on Sunday aboard a train of 16 restored cars he has named "Victory Express."

The Texas governor, pumped up by a new USA Today/CNN Gallup poll giving him a 17-point lead over Vice President Al Gore, his Democratic rival in the Nov. 7 election, declared: "You know I plan to carry the state of Illinois."

Bush's three-day post-convention train tour began in Pennsylvania, wound its way through Ohio and Michigan and was to end in Springfield on Sunday night. All are Midwestern battleground states that Republicans have not won in the past two presidential elections.

Although he spent the night in downtown Chicago, a long-standing Democratic stronghold in Cook County, Bush did not campaign in the city itself.

Bush acknowledged he faced a tough opponent in the city's Democrat mayor, Richard Daley, whose brother Bill — a former commerce secretary — is Gore's campaign manager.

"Mayor Daley is a heck of a mayor. He's a great politician, I wish he was for me. He's not, but that's not going to deter me from campaigning in Cook County," he said.

At every stop in Illinois, Bush hit a selection of the major themes from his standard stump speech, pledging to rebuild the U.S. military, save the Social Security system, reform public education and "restore honor and integrity to the White House."

After a good night's sleep and exercising on a treadmill, Bush was in an ebullient mood at his first rally in Joliet which attracted more than 5,000 to a plaza outside the railway station where they stood in broiling sunshine for more than an hour to hear Bush and his vice presidential running mate Dick Cheney.

Both men shed their coats before taking the stage and Bush quickly rolled up his sleeves. Cheney called their campaign a "historic crusade" that would "change the tone in Washington."

"We think the people of this country are looking for new leadership and that's what we're going to give them," Bush declared." It's time to have an administration that will reject the politics of fingerpointing and name calling."

"Will you join me in a campaign to change America?" he asked, receiving an enthusiastic "Yes" from the crowd.

Bush's trip has provided a wealth of fine photographs and television footage as his train rolled trough tiny rural hamlets, past country lanes where people had gathered simply to watch it go by and into larger centers such as Youngstown, Ohio, and East Lansing, Michigan.

The train, made up of restored cars from the 1920s through the 1950s from the Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and other railroads and pulled by twin Illinois Central diesel-powered locomotives, drew large and curious crowds at all stops.

Bush will repeat it in California, campaigning by train with Arizona Sen. John McCain, whom he defeated in a bitter battle for the Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Republican ticket will split up and campaign separately for the first time next week, with Cheney returning to the Midwest, including Missouri and Michigan.