Jobs On Bush's Mind In Carolina

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As a new report suggested the U.S. labor market was gaining strength, President Bush sought support Friday in a Southern state that's lost thousands of manufacturing jobs, arguing that his tax cuts, free-trade policies and worker-training proposals will ensure better days ahead.

"This administration has laid the foundation for greater prosperity and more jobs across America," Mr. Bush told about 550 enthusiastic GOP supporters helping the president raise money for his re-election.

But the president's visit here was also met by irate textile executives who see his policies in an entirely different light. The state lost a fifth of its manufacturing jobs in the last three years. Many blame the Bush administration for not acting to control a flood of job-endangering cheap imports.

The president attempted to speak to those worries.

"I understand that trade is a two-way street," Mr. Bush said, "that if we have trade with other neighbors, with other countries, we expect there to be fair trade coming the other way."

John Emrich, chief executive of Guilford Mills in Greensboro, N.C., said textile companies may not have a lot of money to lobby in Washington, but they have another potent weapon.

"We do have a lot of people who vote," said Emrich, who plans voter registration drives at his plants.

Democrats haven't won North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes since 1976. But it is the home state of Democratic Sen. John Edwards, who is seeking his party's nomination to run against Mr. Bush next year.

The president's trip allowed him to scoop up $1.1 million for his re-election bid at the fund-raising luncheon. Bush's campaign has already pulled in more than $94 million, even though he has no competitor in the Republican primaries.

"We had a good run in 2000 thanks to you all," the president said. "We'll do even better in 2004 here in North Carolina."

About 300 demonstrators gathered outside, criticizing Mr. Bush on a variety of issues, including the war in Iraq, his textile policy and his million-dollar campaign fund-raiser. The Forsyth County Democratic Party ran a "soup kitchen" to highlight job losses and poverty in central North Carolina.

"That million dollars could pay for a helluva lot of lunches for school kids who otherwise may not get another real meal during the day," said Forsyth County Democratic Party chairwoman Berni Gaither.

Vice President Dick Cheney was headlining two campaign fund-raisers Friday in Austin, Texas, and Houston that together were adding another $750,000 to the campaign's war chest.

Friday's Labor Department report on unemployment, showing that the rate dropped to 6 percent in October from the standstill 6.1 percent of the last three months, added to recent evidence that the economy is mounting a sustained recovery. Payrolls grew by a significantly better-than-expected 126,000 jobs last month, and September's new jobs were revised upward from the original report, the government said.

But the unemployment rate in North Carolina in September was 6.4 percent — only six states were higher. Since July 2000, the state has lost about 151,000 manufacturing jobs, mostly in its mainstay textile, furniture and tobacco industries.

The local Democratic Party was to open a "soup kitchen" not far from the Bush fund-raiser site to highlight the job losses.

In a second speech Friday at a local community college, Mr. Bush was to again tout recent economic progress while talking of steps still needed to sustain and extend it across the country.

The president told his Republican supporters that he would focus in that speech on ways his administration is trying to level the playing field globally for American workers and their products and more effectively train workers for jobs in a changing economy.

Mr. Bush has proposed $3,000 "re-employment" accounts to help the unemployed with job-search expenses. He also wants to transform what he views as bureaucratic, ineffective job-training programs into targeted flexible funding to meet communities' and employers' specific needs.

But his administration's trade policies are foremost in the minds of many in the state.

The White House has not said how it will respond to members of Congress from textile states who want to invoke the industry's "special safeguard" provision to limit imports on certain textile items from China. A Commerce Department decision was expected Nov. 17.

"We've been told by the White House that this industry is a priority," said Mike Hubbard of the Gastonia, N.C.-based American Yarn Spinners Association. "We hope this is the case."