Bush making a pre-election Fourth of July visit to West Virginia

Sunday, July 4th 2004, 10:55 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Trying to turn the war in Iraq into a positive political issue, President Bush is celebrating the Fourth of July with West Virginians in a state with strong ties to military service.

In the ninth visit to the state since he took office, Bush planned to address supporters at a rally at the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston.

Engine trouble on Air Force One delayed the president's departure from Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland, near Camp David, where Bush spent the weekend. Reporters traveling with Bush were told there was a problem with the left engine starter valve on the Boeing 757 being used as the presidential plane Sunday. A second plane was being flown up from Andrews Air Force Base to take Bush to West Virginia.

In 2000, Bush became only the fourth Republican since 1932 to carry the state in presidential voting. Recent polls show Bush and Democrat John Kerry running a close race in West Virginia, where voter registration is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Bush and Dick Cheney were focusing this holiday weekend on West Virginia, one of three states on the vice president's two-day bus tour that also included Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The president's visit is part of a White House effort to explain why removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power and trying to bring democracy to the country was essential to the fight against terrorism. Last week, the United States turned over political control to an interim Iraqi government.

Cheney said in New Orleans last week that Saddam, whom Iraq intends to put on trial, was part of a terrorist threat that had gone largely unchecked before Bush's presidency.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, 77 percent of West Virginia's 6,200 National Guard troops have been activated. As a result, the state ranks among the top five in National Guard deployments per capita.

Some 200,000 veterans comprise 15 percent of West Virginia's population. Thirty-six percent of all male West Virginians fought in World War II, 16 percent in Korea and 20 percent in Vietnam.

The economy, too, is an important election year issue in West Virginia. The state's unemployment rate was 5.2 percent in May, down from 6.4 percent last July.

But the current figure fails to recognize that many people have withdrawn from the labor force because there are no jobs available, said Tom S. Witt, director of West Virginia University's bureau of business and economic resources.

Political observers note that West Virginia Democrats have more of a conservative perspective, opening the door for Bush.

``If Kerry shores up his base and doesn't alienate the more conservative Democrats, I think he would have a good shot,'' said Kevin Leyden, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University.