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In Pa. and W.Va., Bush touts economy

RIDLEY PARK, Pa. -- President Bush yesterday ventured into the blue-collar regions of two swing states, sounding an upbeat note on the economy and restating his support for a missile defense system to protect the nation.

At a Boeing plant in eastern Pennsylvania, Bush tightened a bolt on a Chinook helicopter and thanked the plant's workers for their service to US troops abroad. He called for expanded spending on missile defense so that the country could send a message to the "tyrants of the world."

"You fire, we're going to shoot them down," Bush said, standing outside the plant in front of two Army helicopters. "Those who oppose the ballistic missile system don't understand the threats of the 21st century."

Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, has promised to cut funding on missile defense programs. Kerry has said the effectiveness of missile defense programs has not been substantiated enough to justify that level of expenditure.

"The greatest threat facing our homeland comes from terrorists who would do us harm," Kerry's national security adviser, Rand Beers, said in a statement. "In the months preceding 9/11 George W. Bush and his closest advisers were preoccupied with missile defense, and their misunderstanding about the threats we face continues to this day."

The stop in Pennsylvania marked Bush's second tour of a Boeing plant in the past five days, and the 32d visit Bush has made to the Keystone State during his presidency. While union members have given more support to Democrats and Kerry than to the Republicans and Bush, the president's campaign thinks he can draw strong support among unions in industries where he is viewed more favorably.

"We're a defense contractor, and he's strong on defense, so that's good for us," said Patti Lake-Quinn, a Boeing computer systems worker from Havertown, Pa. Bush lost Pennsylvania in 2000 by 5 percentage points, and finished 12 percentage points behind Al Gore in Delaware County, where Ridley Park is located.

Bush attended a rally last night in West Virginia, another state that has been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs during Bush's presidency. Bush carried West Virginia by a narrow margin four years ago.

Yesterday the Kerry campaign blasted Bush over his handling of the economy, distributing statistics indicating that tough times have come to the very states Bush visited. Citing numbers released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Kerry campaign said Bush's leadership has put a "squeeze" on the middle class. Health care and energy costs have risen as inflation-adjusted wages have fallen, the campaign said.

"Today's report is further evidence Bush is doing a job on America's families," said Phil Singer, a Kerry campaign spokesman. "They are falling further and further behind."

Globe correspondent Jessica E. Vascellaro contributed to this report. Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com.

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