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Schilling goes to bat for Bush in 3 states

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Curt Schilling is pitching for President Bush after all.

The Red Sox star, who at the last minute canceled plans to appear at two New Hampshire Bush rallies Friday, has recorded pro-Bush messages that will be automatically dialed in the Granite State, as well as in Maine and Pennsylvania.

''These past couple of weeks, Sox fans all throughout New England trusted me when it was my turn on the mound," Schilling says in the recording made Friday. ''Now you can trust me on this: President Bush is the right leader for our country."

Schilling issued a surprise endorsement of Bush Thursday morning on ''Good Morning America," prompting a congratulatory call from the president to the World Series hero and quick arrangements by the campaign to have Schilling appear at rallies.

But hours before he was set to appear with Bush in Manchester and Portsmouth, Schilling backed out, citing the ankle problem that hampered him during the post-season. He also said that his overriding message was that everyone should vote, not necessarily that they should vote for Bush.

Bush campaign aides, however, remained eager to use Schilling's star power to help the president's reelection bid -- and to deflect some attention from Senator John F. Kerry's support of the Sox.

Despite Schilling's stated reticence to issue public endorsements, the campaign arranged with him to record the messages, which will be delivered through Election Day.

RICK KLEIN

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