ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) — President Bush traveled Friday to New Mexico, the state that was decided by the closest margin in 2000, where he hailed a “growing” U.S. economy and record home ownership.
The president’s speech laid out his positive view of the economy just minutes before Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry, in Michigan, unveiled part of his economic plan, saying America “cannot afford” four more years of job losses under Bush.
“Thanks to being the most productive workforce in America, and I might say, thanks to good policies, this economy is strong and it’s getting stronger,” Bush told supporters.
Noting that 68 percent of Americans own their own homes, Bush said, “Home sales were the highest ever recently. That’s exciting news for the country.”
New Mexico is a battleground state in the presidential race. In 2000, Al Gore won by 366 votes — fewer than Bush won by in Florida. Forty percent of New Mexico residents are Hispanic, and Bush has been advertising heavily in both English and Spanish.
Kerry has the support of popular Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.
Later, Bush traveled to Arizona to deliver a similar speech in Phoenix.
The speeches in the key Southwest states were billed as official White House events, not campaign stops, meaning they were paid for by taxpayers.
At the speech in Albuquerque, Bush tied what he called a “growing economy” to his series of tax cuts — including a boost in the child tax credit and breaks for small businesses — and he called on Congress to make them permanent.
He also discussed his proposal to provide temporary worker cards for non-U.S. citizens. “This is not an amnesty program,” which would “encourage further illegal immigration,” he said. But “my attitude is if a builder back here can’t find an American willing to do the job, they ought to have the ability to put someone on the job who can do the job.”
Bush never mentioned Kerry by name, but he seemed to have Democratic critics on his mind when he spoke about international trade. “Economic isolationism will lead to economic stagnation — we can’t have that,” he said.
Kerry has called for a tax cut to stop the “outsourcing” of U.S. jobs overseas. Bush and others in his campaign have accused Kerry of being an isolationist, but Kerry has denied the charge, insisting he supports trade so long as policies are enforced that will protect jobs.
Bush said that while some jobs are going overseas, others “from overseas are coming here. The best way to make sure people can find work in America is to make sure the business environment is strong and solid.”
White House officials said the campaign was hoping for positive local news coverage after a week in which national media coverage of the president has been dominated by accusations by Bush’s former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, that Bush did not take adequate steps to fight terrorism before September 11, 2001.