Tuesday, October 26, 2004

DUBUQUE, Iowa — President Bush turned his campaign focus to the economy yesterday, touting the benefit of his tax cuts and saying Sen. John Kerry will raise taxes on small businesses and stop the economic recovery.

“My opponent promises to raise your taxes, and unfortunately for our small-business owners, that’s a promise most politicians tend to keep,” Mr. Bush told 5,000 supporters in Onalaska, Wis.

“To pay for all his new spending he’s proposed, my opponent will have to raise taxes not just on small-business owners but on everyone who’s ever worked for a small business, shopped at a small business or walked by a small business,” he said.

The Bush campaign largely has bet the election on the president’s performance in the war on terror. But with one week to go, the bus tour yesterday through farmland in the Mississippi River valley — with three stops in Wisconsin and one in Iowa — was a good time to get in one more shot about the economy, campaign aides said.

“People here understand the importance of the strength of small business to the strength of the overall economy, and they like the Bush agenda,” said chief political strategist Karl Rove. “That’s why we felt it was a particularly good place to talk about this.”

Democrat Al Gore won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes in 2000 by slightly more than 5,000 votes, but the state has been trending toward Mr. Bush for weeks. Only one public poll out of the last eight in the state puts the Democrat in the lead.

The race, however, is still very close. A Zogby poll released yesterday gave Mr. Bush a 48 percent to 46 percent lead over Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Rove said the campaign has concentrated on areas of Wisconsin where the Republicans “underperformed” in 2000. Those areas include the western part of the state, “which has a propensity to swing” between parties, Mr. Rove said.

To get those voters, Mr. Bush tailored his message to appeal to entrepreneurs working to expand their businesses, and promised to reform and simplify the tax code.

“American workers and small-business owners and families spend six billion hours a year filling out the forms,” Mr. Bush said. “We can do a better job. We can make this tax code pro-growth, pro-family and fair. And I will bring Republicans and Democrats together to do so.”

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said recent economic statistics reflect poorly on Mr. Bush’s presidency and have hurt the people of Wisconsin. He then tried to change the subject.

“George W. Bush has turned excuse making into an art form, offering only more of the same failed policies on the economy and again refusing to address that 380 tons of high-grade explosives are missing from Iraq,” Mr. Singer said, referring to a report, at least partially debunked by the Pentagon and NBC News, that appeared in the New York Times on Monday.

“It is not surprising that today, consumer confidence is down again,” he said. “Americans simply don’t have confidence in this president’s economic approach.”

The Bush campaign released a radio ad in Wisconsin titled “Got Milk,” pointing to the Massachusetts senator’s support for the Northeast Dairy Compact, long a sore spot for Wisconsin farmers.

Mr. Bush killed the compact by signing a massive new farm bill last year.

The ad also poked fun at Mr. Kerry’s muffing of a reference to Lambeau Field, the home field of the state’s beloved Green Bay Packers.

“That John Kerry just doesn’t get it,” says one farmer.

“Oh, the Packer thing,” says another. “He said they played in Lambert Field.”

“No, no. That was just dumb,” says the first farmer, while they both laugh. “This is stupid. Kerry fought like hell — his words — like hell, to make sure us Wisconsin dairy farmers got paid less than other dairy farmers around the country.”

“I know how he wants us to believe he’s on our side,” says the second farmer.

“Kerry must think we’re morons,” the first farmer replies.

Mr. Bush stumps in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan today, accompanied by Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat and the keynote speaker at the Republican convention this year.

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