TROY, Ohio – President Bush said opponent John Kerry's (search) service was "more heroic" than his during Vietnam, in an interview shown Saturday on NBC News.
"I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets," said Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard (search). "He was in harm's way and I wasn't. On the other hand, I served my country. Had my unit been called up, I would have gone."
Busing through western Ohio, where jobs have been slow to come back in the economic recovery, Bush told rural audiences on Saturday that he would work to open foreign markets to U.S. crops and factory goods.
"In order to make sure jobs stay here in Ohio and America, we're going to make sure countries treat us the way we treat them," the president said. "When it comes to trade, our markets are open; they need to open up their markets."
Bush also said he would push Congress to make his first term's tax cuts permanent and said his economic policies were working. The economy has been slow to recover in parts of Ohio, but Bush was welcomed enthusiastically at the town square in Troy and later at a high school in Lima.
In Lima, which has lost 1,600 jobs since Bush became president, more than 1,000 of them in manufacturing, he said, "This economy of ours has recovered from recession, corporate scandal and attacks, and yet there are parts of your state that are running behind the national economy."
"I understand that," he said. "I understand that, which means you better get somebody in office who has a plan to continue economic growth."
Bush, who was making his 22nd trip to Ohio as president, won the county encompassing Troy by more than 10,000 votes over Al Gore in 2000 and won the Lima area by a 2-1 margin. At the side of a country road near the small town of Columbus Grove, laid-off worker Larry J. Rayburn said he planned to vote for Bush and didn't blame him for being out of work.
"He's doing a great job," Rayburn, 59, said of the president. Rayburn said he lost his job at a military tank factory in Lima, a plant that Bush visited last year.
Bush finished the day in Perrysburg near Toledo in northern Ohio, where he told a mostly friendly audience, "I fully understand there are places here in Ohio where people are still looking for work, and so long as anybody is looking for work, this administration will create the conditions for job growth. We need to keep your taxes low."
As the motorcade pulled into Perrysburg, a man threw what appeared to be a balloon filled with a purplish-reddish liquid, striking the windshield of a bus carrying the White House press corps traveling with Bush.
The Toledo area, where Bush lost by 35,000 votes four years ago, has suffered heavy manufacturing job losses during his term in office.
He won Ohio by 4 percentage points four years ago, and the race is close this year.
Wayne Baker, 57, who raises corn and soybeans near New Madison in Darke County, said he supported Bush's efforts to increase overseas markets but wanted to see more done.
"Anything we can do to keep the price up," Baker said. "There aren't any farmers in this part of the country I know getting very rich."
In Lima, Bush said, it would be a mistake to fight unfair trade practices of other countries by isolating the United States.
"One reason the farm economy around the country is strong is because we're selling soybeans to China, we're selling corn around the world. We've opened up markets. We can compete with anybody, any time, any place as long as the rules are fair."
Bush won cheers from most of the people who came out to see him, though about 75 protested outside the Troy town square.
Joe Napier, a 53-year-old electrician from Dayton, said he had been able to work only four weeks so far this year. "It's time for a change," Napier said. "We need somebody to get us some jobs."
As he does at every stop, Bush also spoke optimistically of U.S. military and other operations in Iraq.
"We have a clear goal" for bringing peace to Iraq and Afghanistan so that U.S. troops can come home, he said. "By helping to train Afghans and Iraqis ... we will complete this mission as quickly as possible so our troops do not stay a day longer than necessary."