WASHINGTON, May 4 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush began the second day of his campaign tour in the Midwest Tuesday by poking fun at opponent John Kerry amid promises of victory in Iraq and an economy in recovery through administration economic policies.
The barbs were well received by a partisan audience at a breakfast event in Maumee, Ohio, a state Bush narrowly won in 2000 and which he will need to win again if his re-election bid is to succeed.
"I want you to know it's going to be a tough campaign. I'm under no illusions and I look forward to it," he said at a recreation center. "I'm running against an experienced United States senator. He's been there so long, he's just about on both sides of every issue."
The quip was weeks if not months old, but it underlined that Bush is in full campaign mode as polls showed him with a slight edge over the Massachusetts Democrat and ahead in the likeability stakes.
A CBS/New York Times poll released Tuesday found 53 percent of the 856 people questioned nationwide April 23-27 believed Bush was a man who said what he believed, opposed to 29 percent for Kerry. Seventy-seven percent said they believed Bush had a vision as to where he wanted to lead the country, compared to 69 percent for Kerry, while Bush topped Kerry 68 percent to 58 percent on having the same values as the American people.
Bush began his bus tour through the Midwest Monday, making campaign stops in Michigan and then Ohio. Iowa and Wisconsin are set for Friday.
Bush sounded familiar themes at all his stops: the necessity of fighting terrorism, the imperative of bringing stability and democracy to Iraq and the need to continue his economic growth agenda, featuring tax cuts, initiatives to bring down healthcare costs, job retraining and trade and tort reform to keep the economy rolling.
"I know there's a lot of people in this part of the state who are anxious about their job future," Bush said. "I clearly understand that. But because of the optimistic outlook of our society, because the entrepreneurial spirit is strong, because we refuse to relent in the face of hardship, this country, this economy is strong, and it is getting stronger."
Unemployment in Ohio has dropped from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in recent months, and 7,900 jobs were added in March. Overall, the nation has created some 750,000 jobs since June, but more than 2 million have been lost since the beginning of 2001.
Bush touted economic figures showing growth of more than 4 percent and said that "things are getting better" since the body blows of recession, the terrorist attacks on 2001 and the war.
"The economy is beginning to grow," Bush said. "The worse thing to do right now is to raise the taxes on the American people."
Bush jabbed Kerry on campaign promises that he said already totaled $1 trillion. "He said he's going to pay for it by taxing the rich. That's an old slogan we've heard before. But guess who the rich is? That's you, because there's not enough money when it comes to taxing the rich to pay for all these promises."
The federal deficit is expected to climb above $500 billion this year, but Bush argues that holding down new spending and more judiciously deciding on spending priorities will help curb the red ink in years ahead.
Congress making permanent expiring tax cut provisions - the child tax credit, the repeal of the marriage penalty tax, expansion of the 10 percent tax bracket and small business reinvestment provisions -- is vital to keep the economy humming, he repeated Tuesday.
"The American people are going to have a clear choice in this election," Bush said. "It's a choice between keeping the tax relief that is moving this economy forward, or putting the burden of higher taxes back on the American people. It is a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence, or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger."
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