SAGINAW, Mich. – President Bush (search) ventured into Democratic strongholds of this swing state on Thursday to attract crossover voters with a message that was tough on terrorists and full of hope for more prosperous times.
"The economy is improving — it's getting better," Bush said to several thousands of supporters at a community events center in a section of the state where the unemployment rate went up in June to nearly 8 percent — above the national rate of 5.6 percent.
Bush's trip to Saginaw — his 18th trip to the Michigan — reflects the difficulty of an incumbent president campaigning in areas hard-hit by economic problems.
The Saginaw-Bay City-Midland area of Michigan, a blue-collar, traditionally Democratic zone, has lost more than 8,000 manufacturing jobs. In Canton, Ohio, last Saturday, the president was in an area that has lost 11,000 manufacturing jobs since Bush took office.
"Factory orders are on the rise," he said. "Manufacturing jobs are coming back. The unemployment rate has fallen a full percent and we're not going to rest until everybody who wants to work can find a job."
Campaigning this time in eastern Michigan, far from friendlier GOP turf in western and northern parts of the state, Bush said voters could count on him to remain vigilant in the war on terror.
"We must engage the enemies around the world so we will not have to face them at home," he said, a line that prompted the crowd to get up on their feet and wave American flags and large yellow "Ws" for the president's middle initial. They got up again when he said, "I will never relent, no matter what it takes."
Earlier, in voter-rich Ohio, Bush reassured workers that America's small business sector was healthy and driving economic growth. He also pushed plans that would let employees legally choose time off instead of overtime pay.
"People are skittish, but there's jobs being created," he said.
But some people weren't convinced. "Bush is not for me," said Delorise Hancock, who lost her job after 33 years at the Techneglas plant in Columbus. "He doesn't support the American worker."
Before Bush spoke, the White House issued a two-page memorandum on proposed labor law changes that would let workers choose time off instead of overtime pay as compensation for extra work and give them the option of working more hours in one week and fewer the next - proposals often referred to as comp time and flex time.
Bush only mentioned the proposals once.
"I think the government ought to allow employers to say to an employee, `If you take some time off and work different hours, you're allowed to do so - if you want to accumulate time to spend with your families, spend with your parents, spend for being re-educated, you're allowed to do so,'" Bush said.
Labor leaders claim that under flextime rules, workers no longer would get paid overtime if they worked 50 hours in one week and 30 the next.
"Though he dresses up this proposal in family-friendly `flexibility' garb, the reality is that employers will, once again, be the big winners under this proposal, while workers will end up working more for less," AFL-CIO (search) President John Sweeney said in a statement.
In June, House Republican leaders yanked an overtime pay bill after failing to find enough votes for passage, a rare win for labor unions in the GOP-controlled Congress. The pullback followed a massive lobbying effort by organized labor that targeted moderate House Republicans.
The measure would let hourly workers who log more than 40 hours in a week choose between overtime pay or compensatory time off at a later date. Private companies are barred under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act from offering comp time as an option to millions of workers covered by the law.