WASHINGTON – President Bush charged Thursday that Democratic rival John Kerry's approach to recent tax cuts would be to "take them away" and use the money to expand the federal government.
"I have a better idea: to keep this economy growing and to create jobs, the tax cuts must be permanent," Bush said at a fund-raiser where he banked more than $700,000 for a re-election war chest that already dwarfs Kerry's.
It was the final stop on a two-day, $5 million dash through California for political cash.
"My opponent has plans for the tax cuts. He wants to take them away," Bush said in Santa Clara.
In fact, the Massachusetts senator and Bush both would keep in place key tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year: an increase in the child tax credit (search); tax reductions for some married couples who would pay more than they would as individuals; and an expansion of the bottom 10 percent tax bracket.
Virtually the only area where they disagree on this issue is on Kerry's call to end tax cuts Bush signed into law for those earning more than $200,000 a year.
Bush pressed a similar tax theme at a "conversation on the economy" in Bakersfield.
At Rain for Rent (search), which rents irrigation equipment, Bush shared a stage with five people selected by the White House. Among them was Ismael Diaz, a company engineer who said he had saved more than $3,000 thanks to recent tax cuts.
"When you hear, 'Oh, I don't want to make the tax cuts permanent,' you translate to that, 'We're going to raise Ismael's taxes.' That's what they're saying," Bush said.
Kerry's campaign hit back even before Bush started talking. It noted that hundreds of thousands more people are unemployed in California than when Bush took office in January 2001, and that the unemployment rate in this inland region is more than 13 percent.
"George W. Bush has consistently promised that his tax cuts will deliver jobs, but the results are terrible," Kerry's campaign said in a statement.
Presidential candidates have long used the nation's most populous state as a political ATM, breezing through for big infusions of cash. The state has chipped in a total of $12.5 million to Bush's re-election fund, according to Brad Freeman, Bush's point man for fund raising in California.
Bush pulled in $700,000 Thursday in Santa Clara and $800,000 in Los Angeles Wednesday, both for his re-election. He raised another $3.5 million Wednesday night in Bel-Air for the Republican National Committee.
Bush had raised more than $154 million for his re-election before coming to California.
Kerry had $2.1 million on hand as of Feb. 1, with debts of $7.2 million.
Freeman hitched a ride aboard Air Force One, as did California campaign chairman Gerald Parsky. Also on board was Bill Jones, who won California's primary Tuesday and will face Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in November.
Parsky said Bush intended to make a serious effort to win California and its jackpot of 55 electoral votes this year. Bush lost the state by some 1.3 million votes in 2000.
Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's (search) win last October in the state's gubernatorial recall election (search) made California "a totally different ballgame," Parsky told reporters on the presidential plane.
A Field Poll of registered California voters conducted last month showed Bush losing to Kerry 53-41 percent in a hypothetical matchup.
Leaving Bakersfield, Bush's motorcade came to a halt in the middle of the poor Oildale neighborhood, where he plunged into a crowd of about 800 people - most too young to vote.
They were children in grades K-3 from the North Beardsley School, and they were exuberant at the president's visit, screaming with joy as Bush glad-handed and posed for photos.
From California, Bush flew to his Crawford, Texas, ranch, where he was staying through Monday.
Friday and Saturday, he hosts Mexican President Vicente Fox. A central issue the two leaders discuss will be immigration.
In January, Bush proposed granting temporary legal status for millions of illegal immigrants working in the United States.
"We don't need blanket amnesty here in America," Bush said in Bakersfield. "What we need is, we need to help people find work in a legal way.