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Bush Takes Economic Message to New Hampshire - 2004-01-29


President Bush is in New Hampshire to talk about the economy, two days after Democrats wrapped-up their presidential primary in the key New England state.

Mr. Bush returned to a drab office park south of the state capital where he campaigned three years ago when running for the Republican nomination. He lost that New Hampshire primary by 18 points.

This time, Mr. Bush came back to the financial services firm Fidelity Investments as an incumbent with no serious challengers within the party and a victory in this week's largely over-looked Republican primary.

The president won 85 percent of the votes cast, but with no credible opposition, most of the state's attention was focused on the Democratic primary where neighboring Senator John Kerry added to his momentum from the Iowa caucus.

While President Bush has raised close to $200 million for this campaign, he has still not officially declared his candidacy, saying he is too focused on his job as president.

The "conversation on the economy" here was billed as a presidential event, not a political stop. As with all sitting presidents, that allows the campaign to split the cost of the trip with the government as it also includes a separate political fundraiser.

Introduced to a cheering crowd in Fidelity's company cafeteria, Mr. Bush spoke only briefly about this week's primaries. "It's nice to be back. I understand there has been some activity in the state of New Hampshire recently," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan deflected questions about the timing of this trip, saying Mr. Bush takes his message to people across the country. The economy is one of the president's highest priorities, Mr. McClellan says, and it's a high priority for the people of New Hampshire as well.

President Bush reminded the crowd that the recent recession began under President Clinton and got worse following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"Times were tough. The people of New Hampshire know what I am talking about," he said. "When that recession came, it was awfully hard for some people to be able to do their duty as a mom or a dad to put food on the table because their work wasn't steady. And they were worried about employment if they were working at all."

Democrats are challenging the president on the loss of almost three million jobs since he took office. Mr. Bush is responding by calling on Congress to make his record tax cuts permanent, because he says that will give businesses more money to hire more workers. "The economy is growing. People are finding work," he said. "There is an excitement in our economy. And the tax relief we passed made sense then. It makes sense now, and Congress needs to make this tax relief permanent."

Democrats say those tax cuts unfairly favor the rich and are driving-up huge federal deficits. With the conflict in Iraq fading as a political issue for now, both sides are focusing more on a struggling economy.

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