updated 3/15/2004 5:19:22 PM ET 2004-03-15T22:19:22

President Bush, hoping to move Pennsylvania to his win column in this year’s election, reached out to voters in the state by touting record home ownership in America, one of the bright spots in the economy.

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“Homeownership is at the highest rate ever,” Bush said during a conversation with local residents. “That means that more people than ever in our history are able to say, ‘I own something.’”

Bush noted a positive economic report Monday that showed that industrial production rose by a strong 0.7 percent in February.

“The manufacturing report today was very positive, another indication that the economy is strengthening,” he said. “There are still people looking for work — make no mistake about it — but it’s getting better. Interest rates are low, which is important if you’re a first-time homebuyer. Inflation is down, which is important.”

More than 68 percent of Americans own their own homes, a record high that supporters said proved the success of Bush’s “compassionate conservative” agenda.

Bush has been promoting initiatives to close the gap between white and minority home ownership. While more than 75 percent of white Americans owned their own homes in the fourth quarter of 2003, according to the Census Bureau, the rate among minority groups was 49 percent or less.

In December, Bush signed the American Dream Down Payment Act. The act is designed to help families that can afford monthly mortgage payments but not the down payment or the closing costs associated with buying a house. The legislation authorizes $200 million a year in assistance with down payments to at least 40,000 low-income families.

Chad Clanton, a spokesman for the campaign of Bush’s Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said the “American dream” had diminished under Bush’s leadership. “In Pennsylvania, over 138,000 people have lost their manufacturing jobs, foreclosure and bankruptcies are up, and health care costs are skyrocketing,” Clanton said.

The president also has linked home ownership to national security, another important campaign issue, by saying home ownership led to economic security at home.

Bush, who lost Pennsylvania to Vice President Al Gore in 2000 by 50.6 percent to 46.4 percent, badly wants to win the state this year. If he loses Pennsylvania again, however, it would not hurt his campaign as badly as it did in 2000. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes this year, down from 23 four years ago, because the state lost two House seats in reapportionment.

Busy week on the road
The visit to Pennsylvania was equally about politics.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who traveled with Bush on Air Force One, said, “His message today is designed to appeal to moderates and independents and Democrats.” Specter said Bush had “laid down a marker that he’s going to fight for Pennsylvania.”

Elsewhere, the White House intended to spotlight progress in the broad war on terrorism this week as Bush marks the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In addition to Monday’s visit to Pennsylvania, Bush’s schedule includes political events in several important electoral states, including Florida. The focus will be on such issues as the breakup of an arms-dealing network based in Pakistan and Libya’s decision to give up weapons of mass destruction, even as Bush speaks on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every day this week, the White House has arranged events meant to highlight gains in the war on terrorism since the Iraq war, which began March 19, 2003.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Bush is to meet with the prime ministers of the Netherlands and Ireland, two strong allies in the war.

The Defense Department was scheduled to borrow a favorite White House tactic Tuesday by hosting radio talk-show hosts at the Pentagon. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are among those set to speak to dozens of interviewers.

The same day, the U.S.-run Middle East broadcast network will seek to revive memories of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurds on March 16, 1988, by airing stories about it.

Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney is to deliver a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles, contrasting Bush’s national security agenda with Kerry’s.

Thursday, the president is to return to Fort Campbell, Ky., for a speech to military personnel and for lunch with the troops. He visited the base in November 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The weeklong effort culminates Friday when Bush speaks at the White House. Besides the effect of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the broader anti-terror effort, Bush is expected to talk about peace efforts in the Middle East. Ambassadors from several countries that backed Bush in the Iraq war, including Britain, Italy and Spain, will attend.

Also Friday, the president is to visit again with wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He made similar visits to the hospital in January, April, September and December of last year.

Saturday, Bush is to attend a rally with thousands of supporters in Orlando, Fla.

Bush has no re-election fund raisers planned in the coming days. Campaign officials say that as he approaches his goal of collecting $170 million, he will increasingly focus on raising money for the Republican Party and other Republican candidates.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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