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Bush wraps up Midwest tour

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AUSTIN, Texas — Wrapping up a whistle-stop train tour of the Midwest, George W. Bush headed back to Texas to regroup before embarking on the next leg of his Republican presidential campaign — a swing through the West with former rival John McCain.

Bush is sending running mate Dick Cheney back to the Midwest this week on his first solo tour, underscoring the importance the campaign puts on reaching out to swing voters in states such as Illinois that backed President Clinton in 1996.

On a trip Sunday that took him through Illinois cornfields, past small vegetable gardens and along highways where semis toted farm equipment, Bush touted his plans to use the surplus to cut taxes, rebuild the military, protect Social Security and improve education.

"The surplus means government has more money than it needs, not because we have geniuses in Washington but because we tax the working people too much," Bush told a crowd in Joliet, Ill., that stood in 90-degree heat. "Al Gore thinks the surplus is the government's money. We think it's the people's money."

The phrases, repeated at stop after stop, garnered some of the biggest applause.

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released Sunday showed the Texas governor with a 17-point lead over Vice President Gore among likely voters.

Bush made hay of Clinton's veto Saturday of a bill eliminating the so-called marriage penalty tax. The administration contends the bill is too expensive and benefits mostly wealthy people.

Bush called the veto "a bad mistake" and pledged to sign such a bill if he becomes president.

The newly nominated GOP candidate also tailored stump speeches — delivered from an open platform on the back of a vintage train car — to farmers and union workers in the largely blue-collar towns and rural areas he stopped in.

"I'm for ethanol," Bush told a rally in Normal, Ill. "Every day is Earth Day if you farm the land."

The Bush campaign said the tour was through Democratic territory. While the four states covered on the three-day trip — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois — voted for Clinton in 1996, many towns scouted weeks before Bush's trip were in staunchly Republican areas, guaranteeing the candidate adoring, sign-waving crowds that made great fodder for campaign commercials.

Even Cheney, who has a somber, low-key style, warmed up toward the end of the trip. As a Springfield, Ill., crowd chanted "Che-ney! Che-ney," the former defense secretary broke out in a smile and said, "I kind of like that, actually."