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Bush touts economic upswing

| Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2003

CANTON, Mich. -- President Bush said Monday that "things are looking pretty good" with the economy, an issue that once was a political vulnerability but now looks like a possible asset as he moves toward a battle for re-election.

Bush took credit for the economic improvement in a chat with employees at Dynamic Metal Treating Inc., a family-owned company in the southeastern part of Michigan, a crucial electoral state.

"Not only did tax relief help hardworking Americans, it also helped the economy," Bush said.

The president did not disclose a decision he's expected to announce this week on whether to repeal tariffs on imported steel that were ruled illegal by the World Trading Organization. "It remains under review," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

Both Michigan and Pennsylvania, a battleground state Bush plans to visit today, have voters who are fiercely divided on the tariffs, which Bush imposed last year. They were meant to give the beleaguered steel industry breathing room from foreign competition, but they also have increased costs for some manufacturing companies.

The economic event at the metal company was sandwiched between fund-raisers. One was in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit where auto parts manufacturers say the tariffs have hiked steel prices. That money event and another in Whippany, N.J., raised $1.75 million, bringing his campaign account to at least $110 million.

The president is not expected to release his decision on tariffs until after today's campaign fund-raiser at the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh, which is co-hosted by U.S. Steel Chairman and CEO Thomas J. Usher.

Bush lost Michigan to Al Gore in 2000, but a rebounding economy will bolster his chances in heavy manufacturing states. The nation has lost 2.3 million jobs since Bush took office, many of them in Midwest and old Rust Belt.

Before U.S. efforts in Iraq became mired in postwar violence from insurgents, it was the president's handling of Iraq that was his strong suit in the polls. Now it's his handling of the economy that's getting him higher approval ratings.

Rising U.S. casualties in Iraq have been pulling Bush down in the polls, although his Thanksgiving Day visit to Baghdad helped raise troop morale and could help to blot out images of Bush aboard an aircraft carrier adorned with a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

In Canton, where he met with employees of both Dynamic Metal and Spectrum Automotive, Bush spoke in front of a banner that said "Strengthening America's Economy." It was his 12th presidential visit to Michigan.

In Dearborn, he noted that the Institute for Supply Management on Monday reported that its manufacturing index soared to 62.8 last month -- its best reading since December 1983.

"Our economy is strong, and it is getting stronger," Bush said.

"Figures for the third quarter were recently revised upward to an annual growth rate of 8.2 percent. That's the fastest growth rate in nearly 20 years. Today the purchasing managers' index came out, which shows that our manufacturing sector is getting stronger."

Filings for jobless benefits last week fell to their lowest level since Bush took office, yet the turnaround in employment remains uncertain.

"We must work for a society that is prosperous and compassionate so that every single citizen has a chance to work and succeed," Bush told supporters at the fund-raiser in Morris County, N.J., a GOP stronghold.

Bush won the county, but lost the state to Gore, and his reception by Democrats and other groups yesterday was no friendlier. Members of the state's Democratic congressional delegation stood on the steps of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton and blasted the president for the recent Medicare overhaul.

About 75 atheists, war opponents, members of women's rights group and others protested near a hotel where Bush's fund-raiser was held.

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