First Couple Share Campaign Chores

President Bush ,right, and first lady Laura Bush wave to vistors during their departure from the South Lawn of the White House Friday, March 28, 2003 in Washington. They are en route to Camp David.
AP
President Bush vowed Monday to "stay focused on our economy," saying too many people remain out of work despite fresh signs of a vigorous business recovery.

"I'm encouraged by what I see," Mr. Bush said at the outset of a trip in which he and his wife, Laura, were splitting up re-election campaign duties. The pair was appearing at his-and-her fund-raisers in the South and Northeast.

The first couple's four campaign events Monday will add more than $2.4 million to the Bush '04 account, pushing the total to roughly $98 million. CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Kollerreports today's events bring to 33 the number of fund-raisers the president's done this year – in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Sandwiched around the fund-raisers were two other public appearances: his at a BMW auto plant in Greer, S.C., to discuss trade and the economy, and hers in Portland, Maine, which had preserving America's culture and history as its theme.

At a fund-raiser in Little Rock, Ark., Mr. Bush talked about the latest economic statistics, including one showing the strongest quarterly growth in nearly 20 years and a dip in unemployment to 6 percent in October.

"I have laid out a six-point to the United States Congress to make sure that job creation remains strong and vibrant," he said. "I will stay focused on our economy until the American people are able to put food on the table and take care of their family responsibilities by finding a job."

The president acknowledged that "too many of our fellow Americans aren't working."

His visit to Arkansas, however, comes just days after reports of lagging state revenue collections and the highest state jobless rate in 10 years signal a sluggish state economic recovery.

In South Carolina, Mr. Bush was touting the virtues of free trade on a day when the World Trade Organization declared illegal steel tariffs that Mr. Bush imposed last year. Critics said those tariffs on imported steel were an abandonment of the president's free-trade principles.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on Air Force One that "we disagree with the overall WTO report" and said the administration was studying the world body's decision. Mr. Bush now faces a decision on whether to leave the tariffs in place. McClellan would not give a timetable on that decision.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is using the president's trip to South Carolina to highlight the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, especially in the Carolinas. "Textile and manufacturing workers across the Carolinas deserve to hear specifics from their president at this time of crisis," Edwards said.

China's trade surplus with the United States, which reached $103 billion last year, is troublesome for Mr. Bush, who faces re-election next year amid complaints that unfair Chinese competition is costing the United States jobs.

"If President Bush thinks last week's positive economic news will help workers forget his failure to hold China accountable for playing fair on trade, he is sadly mistaken," Edwards said.

Later, Mr. Bush was attending a $2,000-a-person fund-raiser in Greenville, S.C. Members of about a half-dozen public interest groups planned to demonstrate across the street from the fund-raiser where more than 500 people, including South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, were expected to attend.

By matching official-duties events with $2,000-a-ticket fund-raisers, the White House has been able to pass along part of the travel tab to taxpayers – a tactic used by all recent presidents seeking re-election. Mr. Bush is scheduled to do the same on Thursday when he sandwiches a speech on Medicare between two fund-raisers in Florida.

In Delaware, first lady Laura Bush planned to read a book to elementary school children at Shortlidge Academy in downtown Wilmington and attend a fund-raiser in the city. In Maine, her agenda called for a speech on preserving the nation's cultural and historic sites, followed by another fund-raiser.