updated 5/27/2004 2:56:20 PM ET 2004-05-27T18:56:20

President Bush will try to solidify his support in a Southern state where his Democratic rival is showing strength with a visit and a discussion of his ideas for high-tech innovation in the health care field.

Bush on Thursday visits a children's hospital in Nashville, Tenn., that pioneered the computerization of patient records and will promote his goal of having all patient information available electronically in 10 years.

The president says the federal government will play an important role by setting standards for the conversion, which will help doctors and hospitals share patient records electronically nationwide. Bush also is creating a national health information technology coordinator, a sub-Cabinet-level position, to help achieve the goal.

But the initiative has drawn some criticism from the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry, which argues that Bush is focusing on small issues at the expense of larger problems, such as skyrocketing health care costs and the millions of people without health insurance.

After a tour and remarks at Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital, Bush was to attend a Republican Party fund-raiser at a Nashville home. Tickets for the event ranged from $2,000 to attend a reception, $10,000 to have a photo taken with the president and $25,000 to dine with Bush.

The visit to Tennessee will be the ninth of Bush's presidency, and the second this year.

In 2000, Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in Tennessee, Gore's home state, by 4 percentage points. The most recent survey of this year's matchup, taken just after the Feb. 10 presidential primaries, found Bush with a slight lead over Kerry in the state, which should be strong for the Republican incumbent. Tennessee offers 11 electoral votes.

Tennessee is a state that "Bush ought to carry," said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer. "If he is losing Tennessee he is probably in real trouble nationally."

Members of Bush's administration and others with close ties to him also have visited the state.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke at Vanderbilt's Senior Class Day on May 13, outlining the case for the administration's war on terrorism, while Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush attended fund-raisers in the state in April that raised about $800,000.

Bush last visited in January to promote his No Child Left Behind education reform law.

The trip will be Bush's second foray into the South in the past week. Last Friday, he spoke at Louisiana State University's commencement _ a Republican-leaning state that Kerry's advisers think has become more attractive for Democrats.


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