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Ailing economy remains politically important concern for Bush
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President Bush speaks in Fridley on Thursday. (White House)
President Bush made a quick afternoon stop to Fridley-based Micro Control Company on Thursday, where he highlighted his recently passed tax cut package. Bush said the cuts will spur economic growth by putting more money in Americans' pockets.

Fridley, Minn. — More than 2,000 people packed a Micro Control Company warehouse, standing room only, to see President Bush.

"One of the things I understand is that in Washington D.C., when we talk about money, we are not talking about the government's money, we're talking about the people's money," Bush told supporters.

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Image No fans

Most of the people in the crowd got their tickets from business organizations and a handful of Republican elected officials. The audience enthusiastically roared as Bush spoke, particularly when the president talked about the recently passed tax cuts.

"Right here in Minnesota, companies are adjusting withholding tables so that the working folks of the state will see more take-home pay. Tax relief not only means more take-home pay, but if you happen to be a mom or dad with young children, you'll see the child credit go up from $600 a child go up to $1,000 a child and a lot of those checks are going to be in the mail to you for the differential this July."

Bush also talked about the reduction in the "marriage penalty" as he listed examples of how, he says, the tax cuts Republicans pushed for will help average Americans.

Against a backdrop of a giant sign reading: Jobs and Growth, a huge American flag to the left, and another Jobs and Growth sign on the right, Bush made the case that the tax cut package will help spur economic development.

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Image Happy business owner

"Listen! I'm interested in one thing: I'm interested in helping people find work. I want people who want to work to be able to find a job. The tax bill we passed understands the significance of small business in our society. The tax bill we passed is really good for the economy and will make it more likely somebody's going to find a job," he said.

Bush said income tax cuts coupled with significant tax breaks for small businesses that invest in new equipment or computer software, for example, will spread benefits throughout the economy.

"When you provide incentives through the tax code and people make rational decisions because of those incentives, it has an effect beyond the walls of the company that makes those decision. It ripple throughout the economy. If you're interested in job creation, which is what I'm interested in. I want to see good public policy that encourages jobs to be created in the private sector and that's exactly what we have done."

The president also called for less government regulation of business, and Medicare and tort reform. He talked about progress in the war on terrorism.

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Image Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe

And, noting that he first laid out his energy plan in Minnesota more than two years ago, Bush called on Congress to pass an energy bill that would help wean the U.S. from dependence on foreign fuel. Bush cited the increasing demand for natural gas and called for more domestic energy exploration to help keep prices down.

"There's been a lot of false science put out about what exploration for natural gas would do to certain parts of our country. We're a technologically capable nation," he said.

Outside Micro Control around the Fridley industrial park where the company is based, several hundred people -- Bush supporters and opponents -- staged demonstrations; some cheering the Republican president, others shouting down Bush administration policies.

"The wealthy, united, will never be defeated," chanted a group billing itself "Billionaires for Bush," featured people dressed in elegant attire.

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Image A personal greeting

Among them was Wayne Bailey of Minneapolis, fake money falling out of his formal, dark suit. Bailey said he's a wealthy retiree who will benefit from the Bush tax cut. Still, he says, the Republican approach is wrong.

"It's an economy of insanity," he said. "We're going to just drain money from the lowest classes and give it to the wealthy. They're not even hiding it. They say it's for the betterment of the economy. It's insanity."

Others protested the war with Iraq and Bush administration environmental policies. But there were plenty of supporters as well.

Two young girls, 5 and 7, dressed in red, white, and blue, yelled out patriotic messages to passersby. Their father, deployed to the Middle East in January, isn't expected home in suburban Blaine until near the end of the year.

Their mother, Michele Ryan, says she didn't even try to get tickets to the event because she thought her family's message would be heard by more people outside.

"It's a way to vent, to bring the awareness of other people, especially because you don't turn on the TV and see the confrontation right now. It seems like a lot of the spirit has died down and we have to remember that we have a lot of soldiers, not only over there, but in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Korea... everywhere... all the time, keeping us safe and free and giving us the right to do this, the same as it's giving them the rights over there -- the anti protesters to give their opinion," she said.

President Bush spoke for about a half an hour, and spent some time shaking hands at the front of the crowd before heading back to the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport and his flight home to Washington.

Keith Klein, who owns a manufacturing business in Big Lake, Minnesota, was very pleased with the president's remarks and the Bush administration tax-cutting efforts to strengthen the economy.

"I'm a small business owner and the words he's speaking are just what we need to hear right now," he said.

"It's a good idea. We need tax cuts. We need to put money into the economy," said Dan Sadler of Osseo.

Political observers say Minnesotans will likely be seeing quite a bit of President Bush leading up to the 2004 election. Minnesota is now considered a swing state, meaning that its 10 electoral votes could end up going to the Republican or the Democrats.

The latest Bush visit came as Democratic leaders from across the country gather in St. Paul to hear from some of the top Democratic presidential hopefuls. Democrats complain the timing of Bush's visit to Fridley had more to do with re-election politics than the economy and that the White House is trying to take away attention from the Democrats.

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