President Bush campaigned through two critical midwestern states Thursday, sticking to his message that he has made the economy better and the country safer.
Bush told supporters in Columbus, Ohio, that because of the administration's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, "we are safer and the world is better off." As for the economy, Bush said he recognizes that "some people are nervous" but added: "Of course they're nervous, but there are jobs out there."
In Columbus and at a rally later in this heavily unionized, Democratic-leaning city, Bush made it clear that he wants that message to reach beyond the several hundred supporters to whom campaign workers had distributed tickets.
"Please don't overlook discerning Democrats and wise independents, because, like you, they want a safer and stronger and better America," he told the cheering crowd in Saginaw as he urged them to become emissaries for his reelection and register new voters.
He issued a similar appeal in Columbus. "What I am trying to do is arm you up to try to get ready to convince the undecideds," he told supporters there.
Bush also used the day to promote an aspect of his domestic agenda -- flexible work schedules to help employees juggle the demands of family and job -- that has gained prominence lately as he focuses on issues he would pursue if reelected. Both here in central Michigan and in Ohio, the president urged Congress to adopt pending legislation that would permit employees who work overtime to accumulate the hours for time off, if they preferred that alternative to extra pay.
"I think the government ought to allow employers to say to an employee, if you want some time off, and work different hours, you're allowed to do so," Bush said in Columbus.
The idea is opposed by labor leaders, who contend it would help corporate interests more than it would employees. John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions representing more than 13 million workers, said the idea is "really about giving America's corporations the flexibility to cheat their workers out of overtime pay after 40 hours a week." He portrayed the flextime proposal as a sequel to recent changes in federal labor law, supported by Bush, that critics say will render 6 million workers ineligible for overtime pay. "Now, he wants to weaken the rights of the remaining workers who will still be eligible for overtime," Sweeney said.
Thursday marked the second day in a row that Bush campaigned in the Midwest, after appearances Wednesday in Iowa and Minnesota. Apart from Ohio, the states he targeted are ones he lost narrowly in 2000. His visit to Saginaw was his fifth to Michigan in the past month.
Bush's Columbus appearance used a format called "Ask the President" that his campaign inaugurated in May, in which he blends his stump speech with a question-and-answer session intended to illuminate his views on an array of domestic policies.
A Bush-Cheney '04 campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that tickets for such formats were handed to supporters to ensure the events stay focused on the themes the campaign prefers. But the official said, "In no way, shape or form are the questions pre-screened."
Still, the questions from the audience mirrored Bush's views in support of expanded federal subsidies of religious groups and opposition to same-sex marriage. Five audience members, chosen ahead of time to discuss their work and life choices, exemplified the president's policies.
"I feel like a talk show host," Bush said as he introduced a 53-year-old grandmother who enrolled in community college after her manufacturing job was eliminated and now is preparing for a career as an adult-education teacher.
Phil Darrow, president of Ohio Transmission Corp., said he already offers flexible schedules to employees of his small company, which owns information technology equipment and operates air compressor stations. "We sell air to our customers," Darrow explained to the president.
"You and I are in the same business," Bush replied as the audience burst into laughter. "Is it hot air, by any chance?"