Mr. Bush stopped in New Orleans and Miami to appear with families who stood to benefit from his proposed 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut.
"I want to put a face on the tax relief package," the Republican presidential candidate said in New Orleans, where he appeared with Andrew and Margaret Bechac of Mandeville, La. "I believe Andy and his family should have more money in their pocket. They ought to share in some of the [budget] surplus."
Earlier this week, Mr. Bush said he needed to do a better job of explaining his proposed tax cut. Al Gore, his Democratic opponent, has charged that the Bush plan would wipe out the nation's budget surplus.
Mr. Bechac, 33, a high school teacher and football coach, and his 29-year-old wife, a homemaker, have two young daughters, own their own home and itemize their deductions on their income tax returns. The couple pays $2,075 a year in income taxes, a figure that Mr. Bush said would be cut by $1,600, or 77 percent, under his plan.
In contrast, the Bechacs would get no tax relief under Mr. Gore's more limited "targeted tax cut" proposal, Mr. Bush said.
"The so-called targeted tax cut means some are targeted out of tax relief," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bechac, a Republican who said he is active in local party politics, said the most important issue this election is education. But tax cuts play into that, he said, because any money he and his wife get back from the government they plan to pour into education savings accounts for their daughters, ages 4 and 1.
"We all want tax relief," Mr. Bechac said. "Especially for my family and middle America around the country, we really need this plan."
When reminded of several polls that show no great appetite for tax cuts among the public, Mr. Bush said that he still believed the issue was important to people and planned to stick with it.
"People are beginning to listen, and I like my chances" in the election, Mr. Bush said. "I like them a lot. I've never been more upbeat about a campaign in my life."
In Miami, Mr. Bush met with Larry and Suleica Melow and their three children. Mr. Melow earns $62,000 a year as a state employee and paid $3,458 in income taxes last year. Mr. Bush said the family would get a $2,000 tax reduction under his plan but only $500 under Mr. Gore's.
Talking about education
Sandwiched between his appearances with families, Mr. Bush was part of a panel discussion at Dillard University, a historically black college in New Orleans.
The governor proposed increasing annual federal funding for black colleges and universities from the current $180 million to $320 million within five years. He pledged $166 million in new money for predominantly Hispanic institutions over the same period.
Mr. Bush also said he would give an additional $1,000 tuition scholarship to Pell Grant recipients who pass Advanced Placement math and science exams or take college-level math and science while they are in high school. Pell grants help low-income students attend college.
"These institutions are providing an important backbone for a hopeful tomorrow, so that everyone can access the American dream," Mr. Bush said. "I believe in raising standards, raising the bar and focusing resources."
Panelists, including Dillard University president Michael Lomax and Xavier University president Norman C. Francis, said the proposals were overdue and would help more minorities stay in college and go to graduate school.
"It's a fundamentally sound investment," Dr. Francis said. "It's money that's going to be paid back in the tax dollars these young people pay over their lifetimes."
Ready for Fox
On other subjects Thursday:
Mr. Bush said he was looking forward to his meeting Friday in Dallas with Vicente Fox, the president-elect of Mexico.
The governor said the two leaders would talk about trade and tariffs and Mr. Fox's proposal to open the U.S.-Mexico border. They also will discuss the Mexican leader's desire to end the annual process through which the United States judges Mexico's efforts at fighting drug trafficking, he said.
"I want to make sure I understand fully what he means," Mr. Bush said. "I don't think he fully explained 'open borders.' As you know, I believe we ought to enforce our borders. ... I need to find out exactly what's on his mind."
Mr. Bush said he agreed with the GOP's decision to pull a campaign ad that questioned the truthfulness of Mr. Gore and President Clinton.
This week, the party withdrew the ad after critics within the GOP's senior ranks said the spot conflicted with Mr. Bush's promise to "change the tone" of American politics. The ad featured Mr. Gore in a 1994 interview saying that neither he nor Mr. Clinton had lied in their public careers.
"I think it's appropriate to challenge the man's credibility," Mr. Bush said. "I don't think it's appropriate to challenge the man's credibility in that context.''
Mr. Bush, who also attended a Republican Party luncheon in New Orleans on Thursday, is scheduled to give a speech Friday on relations with Latin America at Florida International University in Miami. He then flies to Dallas to meet with Mr. Fox.