updated 10/23/2006 9:14:20 AM ET 2006-10-23T13:14:20

With his party facing a difficult midterm election, President Bush is focusing on the positive this week: a growing economy he is using to try to persuade voters to keep Republicans in power in Congress.

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White House advisers say Bush is not trying to change the subject from a deteriorating situation in Iraq, and that he will continue to talk about Iraq and the war on terrorism as the Nov. 7 election nears. But Bush advisers said they think the president should get more credit for recent positive economic news.

On Monday, Bush is participating in a small business round-table at Urban Trust Bank in Washington. The bank, set up to provide mortgages, student loans and investment opportunities mainly to minorities, was founded by Robert Louis Johnson, who started BET - formerly Black Entertainment Television. Later, Bush is doing an interview with CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo.

Overall, the economy grew at a 2.6 percent pace from April through June, compared with a 5.6 percent pace over the first three months of the year, which was the strongest spurt in 2 1/2 years. Still, voters remain uneasy even though gasoline prices have started dropping, the stock market is hitting record highs, and interest rates on credit cards and adjustable mortgages are leveling off.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush intends to mention how optimism about the economy and rising hopes for strong third-quarter earnings lifted the Dow Jones industrial average past 12,000 for the first time on Wednesday. The Conference Board's index of U.S. leading economic indicators rose last month, and the government reported last week that consumer prices fell in September by the largest amount in 10 months.

America's voters care deeply about pocketbook issues. Eighty-eight percent of likely voters say the economy is an important issue - on par with the percentage of people who view the situation in Iraq and terrorism as crucial matters, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.

The AP-Ipsos poll this month found that 37 percent of likely voters say they approve of Bush's handling of Iraq overall. Forty-two percent approve of his handling of the economy.

White House political director Sara Taylor said that the economy is a key issue in about two dozen House races, including campaigns in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington state. Democrats need a 15-seat pickup to regain the House and a gain of six seats to reclaim the Senate.

"It's going to have an important impact on certain races around the country," Taylor said. "I think it's an important issue that's not getting a ton of attention." 2006 key races

On Tuesday, the president continues his campaign swing with an appearance in Sarasota, Fla., for businessman Vern Buchanan, who is in a tight House race against Democrat Christine Jennings, a former bank executive. The prospect of losing Florida's conservative 13th District to Democrats brought high-profile Republicans - Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Mel Martinez and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney - to the area last week.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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