Bush says opponents hurt economic rebound

Kerry calls GOP machine `crooked, lying group' in conversation in Ohio

March 11, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

CLEVELAND - President Bush, visiting a depressed Ohio considered crucial to his re-election campaign, made an impassioned defense of his economic policies yesterday and portrayed his political opponents as threatening the U.S. recovery.

"Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. Manufacturing activity is up. Home ownership is at an all-time high," Bush told the audience of 1,000 at the Cleveland Convention Center. "The unemployment rate today is lower than the average rate in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s."

But Ohio has lost more than 225,000 jobs since Bush took office, and the state unemployment rate has jumped from 3.9 percent to 6.2 percent - well above the national rate of 5.6 percent. Steep job losses are a key reason the state is considered one of the toughest battlegrounds of the coming election.

In 2000, Bush won Ohio by a narrow margin of 4 percent, and campaign workers in both parties have taken to referring to it as "ground zero" or "this year's Florida."

This was Bush's 15th visit to the state as president - a disproportionately high number for a state of its size. The president's last trip was in January, when he visited Toledo the day after his State of the Union address to promote his job-training proposals.

In previous speeches, Bush has not dwelled on the plight of the unemployed. But in Cleveland, he took pains to express sympathy for jobless Ohio workers, saying he understands they are going through a "transition."

In Chicago, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry used a campaign stop at a sheet metal plant to level his harshest criticism yet at Republican critics, accusing them of corrupt and deceitful behavior.

"These guys are the most crooked, lying group I've ever seen," the Massachusetts senator was heard telling workers after his appearance. "It's scary."

Kerry, who had just finished delivering an address to the executive council of the AFL-CIO via satellite, still had a microphone clipped to his collar. His voice was picked up by television and radio stations plugged into the sound system.

Kerry spokesman David Wade said Kerry was speaking about "the Republican attack machine," not Bush personally.

Added Wade: "We're making it very clear that [Kerry] is a Democrat who's punching back."

Since his other major opponents ended their candidacies, Kerry has adopted increasingly tough rhetoric, warning that the Republicans are going to try to "tear down my character."

The Bush campaign was quick to denounce Kerry's latest remarks. "At every turn, John Kerry has claimed to be the victim of an imaginary smear machine," said Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt.

In his speech yesterday, Bush lambasted his political foes for greeting America's economic challenges with what he described as calls for "economic isolation" and higher taxes.

He did not refer by name to Kerry, who despite the president's assertions voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement and is on record as supporting trade agreements as long as they are "fair" to American workers.

"Some politicians in Washington see this new challenge, and yet they want to respond in old ways," Bush said. "Their agenda is to increase federal taxes, to build a wall around this country and to isolate America from the rest of the world.

"They never get around to explaining how higher taxes would help create a single job in America - except maybe at the IRS."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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