Bush to pay visit to K.C.

Missouri seen as key to 2004 presidential election

? President Bush travels next week to three Midwestern states to talk about the sluggish economy, an issue that could be a stumbling block in his re-election campaign next year.

On Monday, Bush travels to Richfield, Ohio, where he will address members of the International Union of Operating Engineers and their families at a Labor Day event. A speech at the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City, Mo., is on the president’s schedule for Thursday. Friday, Bush travels to Indianapolis to speak at Langham Co., a warehousing business, and attend a Bush-Cheney 2004 fund-raiser.

Bush won all three states in 2000. Economic issues will be the theme at each stop, the White House said Thursday.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the economy rebounded in the second quarter of this year and grew at a solid 3.1 percent annual rate, a better performance than the government thought just a month ago.

Yet 2.7 million net jobs have been lost since the recession began in March 2001, and the average time people are unemployed is more than 19 weeks. The nation’s unemployment rate is at 6.2 percent.

This will be Bush’s 12th presidential trip to Missouri, a swing state in next year’s election and home of Rep. Dick Gephardt, a Democratic hopeful for president.

Missouri Democrats sometimes jokingly refer to their state as “Crawford II” because they say Bush visits Missouri as much as he visits his ranch in Crawford, Texas, said Mike Kelley, a spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party.

“He comes here because he knows Missouri is the battleground,” he said. “Who ever wins Missouri will win the nation. Karl Rove (Bush’s chief political strategist) knows that. And you can’t rule out that he’s playing politics with Gephardt.”

Bush garnered 50 percent of the vote in Missouri in 2000 compared to Al Gore’s 47 percent. The president won Ohio, another battleground state, by the same margin.

He won Indiana easily.