Ohio has been hard hit by manufacturing job losses and its unemployment rate has jumped from 3.9 percent to 5.7 percent since Bush took office. "There's no doubt that things are getting better," the president said. "Some people could conceivably be - are being left behind" because they lack the skills to cope with changing technology, he said.
But overall, he said, "this economy is strong ... I fully recognize that in Ohio there are still troubled times." He also said that after two wars, "We're now marching toward peace."
Bush spoke at Owens Community College to highlight his $250 million proposal for new job-training grants channeled through community colleges.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, campaigning in New Hampshire, said Bush failed to deliver on a promise to create 250,000 jobs last month when only 1,000 new jobs were recorded. "Americans should be able to trust that what the president tells them is true," he said.
"After four years in office, this president still doesn't understand what's happening in living rooms across this country," Kerry said after watching the State of the Union speech
Bush began a two-day, three-state swing in Ohio, with its 20 electoral votes - a linchpin of Bush's 2000 victory but one he won by only 3.5 percentage points. Wednesday marked his 14th trip to the state.
Later Wednesday, he was heading to Arizona, with 10 electoral votes, which he also won narrowly in 2000. Thursday, he was off to New Mexico, which went to Democrat Al Gore in 2000 by 366 votes.
Bush's aides maintained their usual insistence they were not worried about re-election.
"I don't think the president has any vulnerabilities," White House chief of staff Andy Card said on CBS News. "He's doing a terrific job leading the country."
Democrats complained ahead of Bush's appearances that it was hypocritical for the president to tout his proposals for new job-training grants through community colleges when he has proposed cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending on vocational education, adult job training, youth job training and other programs over the last two years.
The American Federation of Teachers also said that Bush's proposed spending for community colleges is a step in the right direction, but a relatively insignificant amount when compared to the deep budget cuts that have hit the nation's community college campuses.
The political divide running through the country was evident outside Bush's appearance. Hundreds of protesters marched in temperatures in the teens, bearing signs that read "Vote Bush Out Nov.2," "Fire the Liar Bush!" and "Saddam's Gone - now Bush!"
In his State of the Union speech, the president touted his administration's successes: the toppling and capture of Saddam Hussein, the revival of economic growth, and the passage of major tax cuts and a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
"America this evening is a nation called to great responsibilities," Bush said in his 54-minute address Tuesday evening. "And we are rising to meet them."
The address contained few major new proposals, underlining the limitations of a budget burdened by deficits and a campaign year in which far-reaching legislative accomplishments probably will be hard to come by. After calling last week for a resumption of human flights to the moon and eventually sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, Bush didn't mention space exploration in his speech.
From Congress to the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, where next week's presidential primary will be held, Democrats balked. They said Bush had ignored the job losses, ballooning budget deficits, diplomatic reversals and growing ranks of Americans without health insurance that have characterized his administration.
"He promised us a humble foreign policy. Instead, he's alienated our allies, lost the respect of the world community, and cost 500 brave young men and women their lives" in Iraq, said retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
"President Bush's speech was not so much of a State of the Union as a state of his re-election campaign," said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. "But the president's words do not change the reality that his priorities are out of touch with the priorities of most Americans."
Bush touted a cluster of issues sure to energize conservative voters who are the core of the Republican Party.
He said he would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman if courts struck down a law mandating that. He asked lawmakers to renew expiring portions of the USA Patriot Act that strengthen the investigative reach of law enforcement agencies, double funds for abstinence education and codify his administration's award of federal grants to religious charities.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.