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National, Economic Security Issues Dominate Early Months of US Presidential Campaign - 2004-03-12

The twin themes of national and economic security are dominating the early months of the U.S. presidential campaign. President Bush highlighted both during a trip Wednesday to the New York City area.

The president spent the day remembering the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and defending his handling of the U.S. economy.

He went to the New York suburbs for a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of a new memorial to those killed more than two years ago. The ceremony was a somber, low-key affair. Mr. Bush listened and comforted relatives of the victims, but did not speak. Instead, the mournful sound of bagpipes filled the air.

The White House said the president was there solely to pay tribute to the victims. Before leaving for New York, Mr. Bush spoke about the meaning of the day in remarks transmitted by satellite to a meeting of Evangelical leaders in the state of Colorado.

"I have great confidence in America because I know the strength of our people," he said. "The world saw that strength on a September morning exactly 30 months ago, and in the countless acts of courage and kindness that have followed."

Some critics have accused the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign of using images from the terrorist attacks for political gain. They have also raised questions about the president's decision to go almost directly from the memorial ground-breaking in Nassau County to a fund-raising reception at a nearby hotel.

Under questioning from reporters, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said once again that the September 11th attacks comprised a defining moment for the nation and the world. He also noted the invitation to the ground-breaking was extended after organizers learned the president was already planning to come to the area for the reception and an event highlighting his economic policies.

Mr. Bush visited a factory and sat down with a group of business owners and workers to talk about issues such as job creation and taxes. "And you see, when you cut the taxes on a small business, it gives that small business owner more money to invest. And when that person invests it means somebody is more likely to keep a job," he said.

With the federal income tax filing deadline about a month away, and political attention high as Americans learn about the President's likely democratic opponent Senator John Kerry, both sides are focusing on tax and economic policy in these early months of the campaign.

Mr. Kerry has said he wants to roll back recent tax cuts given to the wealthiest Americans, and retain those for the middle class. The Massachusetts lawmaker was back on Capitol Hill Wednesday, where he held a press conference surrounded by other Senate Democrats.

"In every respect, there is one policy from this administration: a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America at the expense of the real priorities," he said.

The Bush campaign's answer came in a new television ad, which criticizes the senator's record on taxes and terrorism.