KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The U.S. economy is "showing signs of promise," President Bush said Thursday in his second speech in 10 days in Missouri, a state he narrowly won in 2000 and has doggedly courted ever since.
"Our economy is starting to grow again," Bush said at the Kansas City (search) Convention Center. "Americans are feeling more confident. I am determined to work with the United States Congress to turn these hopeful signs into lasting growth and greater prosperity and more jobs."
Bush outlined six steps he said are needed to build confidence among employers. They ranged from energy, tort and health care reform to opening new markets for U.S. products and streamlining regulations. He chided lawmakers seeking to roll back the tax cuts he pushed through Congress, which Bush believes have helped raise disposable income for Americans and are stimulating economic growth nationwide.
He said Congress needs to "make these tax cuts permanent."
Last week, Bush was in St. Louis, on the opposite side of the state, where he vowed not to retreat on the war on terrorism -- another issue vital to his re-election campaign. He touched on that theme again Thursday in his speech to about 2,500 businessmen and women.
"Our military campaigns and the war on terror have cost our treasury and our economy," Bush said, "yet they have prevented greater costs."
While his upbeat message about the economy was well-received, many people here are not feeling the rebound that state officials say is under way. The area has been hard hit by thousands of recent layoffs: Energy company Aquila (search) has let 1,000 workers go in the last 18 months and Sprint (search) has slashed about 6,000 in that period.
Missouri experienced a net loss of 93,000 jobs between March 2001 -- when the recession began -- and May 2003. The state's unemployment rate in July was 5.6 percent, below the national figure of 6.2 percent, but critics of the administration say jobless figures don't reflect those who have quit looking work.
More than 100 protesters gathered outside the convention center to protest Bush's visit. One carried a sign that said: "Who's recovery. I just got laid off." Another said, "Unemploy Bush 04"
Bush promised that his tax cuts would work to stimulate the economy, said Mike Kelley, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party. "Well, Mr. President, it hasn't worked," he said.
It was Bush's 13th trip to Missouri -- a total exceeded only by Florida and Pennsylvania. The president won Missouri's 11 electoral votes by fewer than 79,000 votes and the Bush-Cheney campaign are working hard to keep the state in the Republican column.
"Missouri is absolutely key," said Ken Warren, political science professor from Saint Louis University and longtime observer of Missouri politics. "There are only a few real swing states in the United States that Republicans and Democrats really fight over. Missouri is also your best bellwether state."
Missouri picked the winner of every presidential contest in the 20th century except 1956, when they went for Adlai Stevenson from neighboring Illinois. "He needs to win Missouri," Warren said. "I'm not saying he's in trouble, but he doesn't want to lose it."
Bush is staying silent this week on the persistent violence in Iraq, and aides have tried to keep him at arm's length from a development that has overshadowed most everything else: the administration's shift toward seeking a stronger U.N. role in postwar Iraq. The White House made Secretary of State Colin Powell the point man, saying only that Bush was keeping abreast of the diplomatic overtures.
By contrast, Bush has devoted almost all his public attention this week to the economy, an issue that polls indicate more voters are interested in as they consider the presidential candidates. He closes out the week with a speech on the economy and a fund-raiser Friday in Indianapolis.