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Bush takes State of Union message to key states

President Bush, on the defensive about jobs as he campaigns for re-election, said Wednesday "there are still troubled times" in states like Ohio as he touted his plan for retraining laid-off workers for new careers.

Democrats derided the approach as meager in an economy that has shed 2.3-million jobs during the Bush presidency.

A day after his State of the Union address, Bush began an overnight trip to three states important to his re-election strategy _ Ohio, Arizona and New Mexico. He highlighted the economy and the war on terrorism, which polls say is his stronger suit with voters.

Since Bush took office, Ohio's unemployment rate has jumped from 3.9 percent to 5.7 percent, with heavy losses in manufacturing.

"Nationwide this economy is strong," Bush said at Owens Community College near Toledo. "I fully recognize in Ohio there are still troubled times. The manufacturing sector here is sluggish at best, and therefore people are looking for work."

No Republican has won the White House without Ohio, and Bush's trip marked his 14th visit to the state. In the last election, he carried Ohio by 3.5 percentage points.

Bush said his "Jobs for the 21st Century" plan would provide relief for laid-off workers. From Ohio, Bush flew to Arizona to make the same argument at Mesa Community College outside Phoenix, the largest city in a state that narrowly handed its 10 electoral votes to Bush in 2000.

Bush proposes spending $500-million more on a slew of job-training and education programs: $250-million in grants to community colleges that partner with employers looking for higher-skilled workers; an extra $33-million in the $12-billion Pell Grant program to give $1,000 more per year to low-income students who complete a rigorous high school curriculum; $100-million to teach middle and high school students to read; $120-million in grants to increase math achievement; and a $28-million increase in funding for Advanced Placement.