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Bush rallies the base in Rochester airport stop
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President George W. Bush speaks at a campaign forum on the economy in Rochester, Minnesota. Bush and his challenger John Kerry traded shots Wednesday on the Iraq war and terrorism as their heated race for the White House lurched toward an increasingly bitter finish. ( TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The parade of presidential hopefuls campaigning in Minnesota continued on Wednesday. President Bush talked about the economy during a stop in Rochester. He told a crowd of more than 2,000 supporters that tax cuts have helped revive consumer spending and spurred job creation.

Rochester, Minn. — President George W. Bush spoke to party faithful gathered inside an airport hangar on the outskirts of Rochester. Supporters from around the region sat on bleachers and folding chairs. A giant American flag served as the backdrop. While the president touched on a range of subjects, including Social Security, health care and the war against terrorism, he spent most of his time talking about the economy.

He said when he assumed the presidency four years ago, the nation was already sliding into recession. He said corporate scandals and the aftermath of September 11 didn't help matters.

"But we acted. I led, and the Congress responded, with tax relief. Tax relief was vital. It encouraged consumption and investment and the recession was one of the shallowest in history," he said.

Bush said recent unemployment figures for the nation are at 5.4 percent. He says that's lower than in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Bush said in order to keep producing new jobs, it's important to maintain an environment where small businesses can thrive. He said ownership is one of the keys to a successful economy.

"No one ever washes a rental car. There's some wisdom in that. If you own something you tend to wash it. If you own something you tend to have a vital stake in the future of our country," Bush said.

The president then introduced John Eckoff, who joined him on stage. Eckoff owns a Rochester business called Venture Computer Systems. He started it at home while working for the Mayo Clinic. The business now employs 30 and Eckoff said there are plans to add more before the end of the year.

"Some of the people in this room were in my basement in the beginning of Venture Computer System," he said.

"It's the old classic, the kitchen table, and the garage, in this case the basement," Bush responded. "That's what happens. Don't you want to live in a country where old John says 'I have a dream' and 'I want to start my own business'?"

Bush told the crowd it's the government's job to create an atmosphere where new start-ups can prosper. He said that his challenger John Kerry is proposing taxes which would stifle the entrepreneurial spirit.

The president had three other people stage to illustrate his economic philosophy. A dairy farmer that called for the permanent repeal of capital gains taxes, a recent home buyer who benefited from low interest rates, and a displaced worker who enrolled in a retraining program.

It's no surprise the president's opted to talk about the economy during his stop in Rochester.

The Federal Reserve Bank's Art Rolnick says Minnesota's economy is traditionally among the most robust in the country. Minnesota's unemployment rate is 4.6 percent, that's well below the national average.

"We now have one of the most highly educated workforces in the country and that's where our strength lies. Not just in the past but in that's what's going to matter so much in the future. So if I wanted to focus on one key issue, one key factor that has made this economy so goof and will continue to make the economy good its the quality of the workforce. We're all above average," Rolnick says.

Democratic challenger John Kerry is expected to campaign in Minneapolis on Thursday. His supporters were noticeably absent from the Rochester event. A Secret Service officer said this was only campaign stop he can recall where no protesters were present.

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