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Laura Bush woos female business owners
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First lady Laura Bush spoke to female business owners in central Minnesota Tuesday, saying President Bush is taking action to make health care more affordable for small businesses. (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
First lady Laura Bush made a campaign stop in central Minnesota Tuesday, visiting a quilt shop in the city of Waite Park near St. Cloud. After a tour through rows of colorful fabric, the first lady spoke to a crowd of female business owners. Laura Bush said her husband's policies are strengthening the nation's small businesses.

Meanwhile, a group of Democratic businesswomen in St. Cloud say the president hasn't done enough. They spent the morning touting John Kerry's proposals to strengthen small business.

Waite Park, Minn. — The backdrop for the first lady's campaign visit was vintage Americana, red, white and blue quilted flags. Before Laura Bush arrived, Gov. Tim Pawlenty took the stage.

In front of a crowd of nearly 300 businesswomen, Pawlenty gave President Bush's policies credit for keeping the nation's economy on track. But Pawlenty saved plenty of praise for the first lady herself.

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"She is an individual that is not only graceful, she is not only poised, but she is strong and she is thoughtful and she is committed," Pawlenty said. "She is a tremendous role model as a leader for our country, and for our citizens, and aren't you proud to have her as a first lady of our country?"

"I'm so happy to be here," Mrs. Bush said, "to talk about the great work that's going on here at Gruber's Quilt Shop, and also to talk about the great work my husband is doing as president of the United States."

Laura Bush said small businesses are at the heart of the nation's economy. Bush said female business owners are increasing in their numbers across the country, and they too have seen the benefit of her husband's policies.

"In the last four years, President Bush has created an economic environment where women entrepreneurs can succeed, and small businesses can flourish and grow, and it hasn't been easy," the first lady said. "But our economy remains the strongest in the world, thanks to America's small businesses and the president's commitment to tax relief."

Mrs. Bush says because of her husband's tax cuts, small businesses have been able to expand and hire more employees.

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She also promises the Bush administration will continue to work on reforms to keep government out of the business world.

"Because of the president's sound economic policies, and the hard work of America's strong businesses, the economy is strong and is getting stronger," said Mrs. Bush. "The president will not be satisfied until every American who's looking for work can find a job, and until regulations on business are fair and reasonable."

After the speech, Beth Probasco agreed with the first lady's sentiments. Probasco, who works at Gruber's Quilt Shop, says government should entice businesses to grow, but then get out of the way.

"We sometimes get too involved -- government does -- in business," said Probasco. "We need to let people have the freedom to grow -- give them the incentive, but give them the freedom to grow."

While the first lady was courting voters in Waite Park, a group of Democratic leaders and Democratic business women in St. Cloud were pushing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's plan to help small businesses.

They say President Bush hasn't done enough to help, and claim female business owners would fare better under a John Kerry presidency.

DFL Associate Chair Taryl Clark says under Kerry's plan, more small businesses would be able to expand through business loans. Clark says Kerry would also make health care more affordable for small business owners.

"Let's expand the loans so we can create more jobs, make sure that people have access to a way to get capital, and then helping with the health care issues that have been a burden for small business -- I think in both of those places we'd see a big difference," Clark said.

The first lady also spoke about health care, saying the president is in favor of allowing businesses to pool their money, and buy health insurance for their employees.

Laura Bush spoke to groups of female business owners in three swing states on this campaign tour -- Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

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