Hoping to move Pennsylvania into his win column in this year's election, President Bush traveled to the state for the 26th time on Monday, stopping at an affordable housing development to tout home ownership -- a bright spot in the economy.
Some 68 percent of Americans own their own homes, and that record high fits well into Bush's domestic agenda. It's part of his concept of an "ownership society," which promotes the idea of Americans owning their own homes and owning and managing their own health care and retirement plans, small businesses and the like.
"Homeownership is at the highest rate ever," Bush said during a conversation with local residents. "That means that more people than ever in our history are able to say `I own something."'
Bush noted a positive economic report Monday that showed industrial production rose by a strong 0.7 percent in February.
"The manufacturing report today was very positive, another indication that the economy is strengthening," he said. "There are still people looking for work -- make no mistake about it, but it's getting better. Interest rates are low, which is important if you're a first-time homebuyer. Inflation is down, which is important."
Bush stopped for about 10 minutes at the home of Pearl Cerdan, a new homeowner in a 10-unit affordable housing development about 10 miles west of Philadelphia. Then he visited a YMCA to have a discussion about home ownership.
The visit to Pennsylvania was equally about politics.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., (search) who traveled with Bush on Air Force One, said, "His message today is designed to appeal to moderates and independents and Democrats." Specter said Bush had "laid down a marker that he's going to fight for Pennsylvania."
Bush has been promoting initiatives to close the gap between white and minority home ownership. While more than 75 percent of white Americans owned their own home in the fourth quarter of 2003, according to the (search), the rate among minority groups was 49 percent or less.
In December 2003, Bush signed the American Dream Down Payment Act (search). The act is designed to help families that can afford monthly mortgage payments but not the down payment or closing costs associated with buying a house. The legislation authorizes $200 million a year in down payment assistance to at least 40,000 low-income families.
Kerry campaign spokesman, Chad Clanton said the "American dream" has diminished under Bush's leadership. "In Pennsylvania, over 138,000 people have lost their manufacturing jobs, foreclosure and bankruptcies are up, and health care costs are skyrocketing," he said.
Bush, who lost Pennsylvania to Al Gore in 2000 -- 50.6 percent to 46.4 percent -- badly wants to win the state this year. If he loses Pennsylvania again, though, it won't hurt his campaign as hard as it did in 2000. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes this year, down from 23 four years ago because the state lost two House seats in reapportionment.