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By WILL LESTER
President Bush combined two fundraising trips for threatened GOP incumbents Monday with a tour of a family-run manufacturing business he pointed to as proof that his tax cuts are helping the economy.
But the most powerful economic news could be found at the gas stations all over Cincinnati, where gas could be bought for a little more than $2 a gallon.
"This economy of ours is strong," Bush said after touring Meyer Tool Inc. in Cincinnati. He said the company is benefiting from those tax cuts and added 125 jobs over the last year.
The president has had trouble convincing the public that the economy is doing well. Only four in 10 people approve of the way he’s handling the economy, according to AP-Ipsos polling.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the president’s comments show he is "unbelievably out of touch."
"Does the president really expect the 195,000 Ohioans who’ve lost good manufacturing jobs on his watch to believe their economy is strong?" Sweeney asked.
But the rapid drop in gas prices over the last month could attract more attention from the public than countless speeches about economic policy.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said that "everyone notices gas prices." He scoffed at suggestions the administration is pushing prices down just before elections, saying people are crediting Bush "with the kind of magisterial power unknown to any other human being."
But the administration message on Monday was more focused on maintaining business conditions that help companies thrive and create more jobs.
Bush advocated making his tax cuts permanent, a frequent theme at stops around the country. He said such a move would help small businesses like Meyer Tool. During his tour of the plant, Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio was close by his side. DeWine was criticized when he did not appear with Bush on some earlier visits.
Bush raised almost $1 million for DeWine, who is in a close re-election contest with Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown.
Earlier in the day, Bush met privately with Republican donors at an estate in Greenwich, Conn., raising almost $800,000 for GOP House members facing tough re-election fights.
About 65 people attended the Connecticut event at the mansion on Long Island Sound. The money was raised to help Republican candidates, but mostly to help GOP Reps. Christopher Shays, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons. The three are top targets for Democrats trying to gain the 15 seats needed to take control of the House.
Incumbent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is running as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. The Republican in the race, former Derby mayor Alan Schlesinger, has been drawing less than 5 percent in the polls and was not invited to Monday’s fundraiser.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell was invited but did not attend, citing a previous commitment. It’s the second time since becoming governor in 2004 that Rell, who remains popular in the polls, skipped a visit from Bush.
Snow, meanwhile, suggested the White House was staying out of a flap over whether former President Clinton did enough as president to try to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.
In a combative interview on "Fox News Sunday," Clinton defended his handling of the threat posed by bin Laden, and said he tried to have bin Laden killed but was attacked for his efforts by "all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now."
"President Clinton really had strong feelings about this. We’re not going to engage," Snow told reporters.
The presidential spokesman also criticized news reports based on a government-produced intelligence assessment suggesting the war in Iraq had worsened the terrorism threat by helping to create a new generation of Islamic radicals.
"The report is not limited to Iraq," Snow said of the still-classified report. He said "a variety of factors in addition to Iraq" had fueled the spread of terrorist activity.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press