ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – President Bush on Friday promoted his efforts to help Americans, especially minorities, "realize their dreams" of home ownership as he wooed the large Hispanic population of a state he barely lost four years ago.
"We want more people owning their own home in America," Bush said. His goal is to have 5.5 million minority homeowners in the country by the end of the decade.
Touting his tax cuts as the economy's savior — and pointing to the strong housing market as proof — Bush said "more people own their own home now than ever." More than 50 percent of minorities owned their own homes in the last three months of 2003 for the first time ever, the president said.
Nationally, more than 75 percent of white Americans owned their own home in last year's fourth quarter.
Bush lost New Mexico to his 2000 Democratic rival, Al Gore (search), by just 366 votes four years ago. This time around, his campaign is lavishing attention on the state in hopes of not letting its five electoral votes slip away again in what is expected to be another close election.
But Democrats say that despite Bush's attempts to tout the strong housing market as an accomplishment of his administration, the president may be vulnerable on the housing issue, especially in the Southwest where the president's opponents see a "housing gap."
And while Bush has emphasized promoting home ownership in his federal housing policy proposals, critics say that help for low-income renters and more affordable housing is a much more sorely needed focus.
"The facts disprove President Bush's theory that the economy is recovering," says Billy Sparks (search), spokesman for Bill Richardson (search), the governor of New Mexico and a former Clinton administration official.
The percentage of Hispanics who own their own homes actually declined in 2003, said Sparks, and eventually, "Bush's deficits are going to drive millions of Americans out of the housing market."
Hispanics are a key constituency in 2004, both for Democrats who have long received their support, and for Republicans who are fighting to make inroads. The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign has Hispanic teams in 30 states. In the offing is an aggressive drive to recruit Hispanic voters face to face and through ads.
Home ownership is the focus of another Bush appearance Friday in Phoenix as the president tries to offset Democratic criticism about lackluster job creation in the recovering economy. He was visiting a carpenter training center and talking to three first time home buyers, a construction foreman and Dough McCarron (search), the president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (search) and Joiners of America.
At the Albuquerque event, Bush shed the coat and tie he had been wearing as he left Air Force One. His sleeves rolled up and eyes squinting against a bright sun, he spoke to an outdoor audience stocked with supporters who chanted "four more years!"
To his right was a sign apparently manufactured by the White House that read, "A home of your own." Aides also issued a news release titled "Dismantling The Barriers To Homeownership" to further underscore the message of the day.
Bush's talk of promoting an "ownership society," the idea that Americans own their own homes and own and manage their own health care and retirement plans and small businesses, is a key re-election campaign theme.
Late last year, Bush signed the American Dream Down Payment Act (search) 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.