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Bush hits the road to discuss economy

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DEARBORN, Mich. — President Bush visited Pennsylvania and Michigan on Thursday on a campaign-like swing that highlighted one of his greatest strengths, his ability to raise money almost at will, and one of his greatest vulnerabilities, the still-sluggish economy.

The president's emphasis was on the steps he has taken to reverse job loss, and he chose to deliver the message in two big industrial states that he lost to Al Gore in 2000 but dearly wants to pull into his column next year.

Bush sought to focus attention on his most recent tax cut, traveling to a Treasury Department building in Philadelphia where workers were preparing $400 rebate checks that will go out this week to 25 million families with children.

He then flew to Michigan, stopping at an aerospace factory to talk up signs of economic recovery before attending a fund-raiser here at which he raised $2 million. That brought the total take for his re-election campaign, in a little more than a month of raising money, to more than $45 million.

"We've overcome a lot because we acted," Bush told flag-waving workers in Livonia, Mich., at the Beaver Aerospace and Defense plant, which as a maker of missile and aircraft parts has benefited from the administration's buildup in military spending. "Sign after sign after sign says we're poised for growth so people can find work."

But when it comes to convincing voters that good times are around the corner, Bush clearly has a sales job to do in Pennsylvania and Michigan. The unemployment rate nationally has risen to 6.4 percent from 4.1 percent when Bush took office, and joblessness is even higher in the two areas Bush visited on Thursday. In Philadelphia, the unemployment rate stands at 7.8 percent. In the Detroit area, it is 6.6 percent, and it is higher in cities like Flint, where it is 8.8 percent.

As a result, Democrats are eager to do political battle with Bush on the economy in general and jobs in particular.

"Michigan has been devastated by this administration's reckless economic policies," Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement. "Instead of creating new jobs and growing the economy, President Bush has continued down the senseless road of cutting more taxes for the wealthiest Americans."

Democrats said the administration's effort to crisscross the country with the promise that things will improve was wearing thin with the electorate, especially since so much of the benefit of Bush's tax cuts has gone to upper income taxpayers.

"How many times have we seen this tour?" said Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, the organization of moderate Democrats. "This is the third straight 'The Jobs Are Coming' tour."