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Bush returns to heartland to plug his budget plan

WASHINGTON — President Bush is returning to the nation's heartland this week to promote his spending and tax-cut proposals, hoping to sway Democrats from the Midwest and the South to his side.

Bush was focusing on his Medicare plan in Washington Monday and watching the swearing-in of disaster-management chief Joe Allbaugh. Then he was returning to his 2001 campaign trail — a zigzagging path that took him to five states last week, and will hit four this week.

Bush plans to visit Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Louisiana before heading next weekend to his Texas ranch. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., are among his targets.

Bush will go Tuesday to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where international currencies, stock indexes and beef and pork futures are traded.

It offers a window on the nation's economy: In 2000, some 231 million contracts worth more than $155 trillion changed hands at the exchange.

"The president continues to take his message to the American people, outlining his budget and tax cut plans, and the mercantile exchange is a good venue to talk about economic growth," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

On Thursday, Bush flies to the Dakotas, which he carried easily last year with more than 60 percent of the vote, and which both have two Democratic senators.

In Fargo, N.D., he'll talk taxes, and in Sioux Falls, S.D., he'll visit a health care institution. Bush's budget calls for increases in medical research funding, something he highlighted in Atlanta last week.

The president stops in Lafayette, La., on Friday before heading to his ranch. The following Monday, he flies to Florida for his first official visit to the state. He vacationed there in December as president-elect.

Support for Bush's plan has split largely along party lines, and Bush's broader mission is to build congressional support. He traveled last week with lawmakers representing the states he visited, heaping praise on them and calling on his audiences to pressure doubters.

Bush will repeat that tactic this week.