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Bush Targets Florida Voters - 2004-02-16

President Bush is taking to the road as the 2004 election campaign moves into high gear. Florida is the state that ultimately decided the 2000 presidential election. And the Bush campaign is leaving nothing to chance in 2004.

On his 19th trip to the state since taking office, President Bush appealed to two constituencies: small business owners and stock-car racing fans.

His first stop was Daytona International Motor Speedway, where he kicked off the NASCAR racing season with the traditional call, "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

As the sound of revving engines filled the track, the president took in the accompanying cheers from the crowd. The next morning he appeared at a very different venue - a factory in the city of Tampa that makes aluminum windows and doors.

It was billed as a "conversation" on the economy with local small business owners and workers. The Bush campaign leans heavily towards such events, which give the president a chance to highlight his achievements before a handpicked, friendly audience.

Connie Horner, the owner of NuAir Manufacturing, the family business the president visited in Tampa, told him that the tax cuts he pushed through Congress have enabled her company to grow and hire additional workers.

"And we are just incredibly optimistic about our future, and we have you to thank for that!" she said.

Mr. Bush responded by saying the praise for recent economic gains should go to the American people.

"All governments can do is create an environment," said Mr. Bush. "It is up to our fellow citizens to seize the opportunity. We can not make you be bold. We can not make you be smart. We can not make you make the right decisions. That is up to you."

The president also used the occasion to lash out at Democrats who say his tax cuts are excessive and have contributed to a dangerous budget deficit. He told his Florida audience his critics are wrong

"The fact that there is more money in your pockets has made this economy strong," added Mr. Bush. "And that is where we need to keep it."

President Bush has held similar events in recent days in other states considered crucial to his re-election campaign. He has spent a lot of time talking about the economy, which polls show is currently the top concern cited by American voters.