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After touting advances made in federal tax law designed to help small businesses during her meeting at the downtown Radisson Hotel on Summit Street - using examples of how the Bush tax cuts helped local women build their businesses - she ventured down the street to meet Howard Pinkley, the owner of the small Flags Sales and Repair shop at 114th and Summit streets in Point Place.
Entering the quaint brick building, the former home of a neighborhood fire station, Mrs. Bush stretched out her hand to greet Mr. Pinkley.
"We are highly honored,'' he said. "How's the President?"
"He's doing very well. Thanks for asking,'' she replied, acknowledging that, while he was also out campaigning, she couldn't remember where. She then received a brief tour of the shop, chatting with employees and purchasing a book about flag etiquette before leaving.
The easy folksiness of the moment captured the First Lady's appeal on the campaign trail, where her speeches are delivered from a prepared text. Her campaign stops are designed to connect with women voters, a demographic in which Democratic challenger John Kerry leads President Bush in most key public opinion polls.
Yesterday's stops in Philadelphia, Toledo, and Royal Oak, Mich., mark the start of an effort, she said, to push hard to win the support of women in key states. The effort continues today in three more battleground states: Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, all of which her husband lost in by narrow margins four years ago.
Economic security was at the heart of her message here.
"The record is clear," she said. "The economy is strong and getting stronger," also a favorite line in her husband's speeches.
"This is increasingly a woman's world, and this sisterhood just keeps on growing," she told the crowd, pointing out that 18 million Americans work for businesses owned by women. A good example of the increasing influence of women can be found at the White House, she said, where her husband's top advisers include key officials on domestic and foreign affairs.
"There are women in charge, from everything abroad to everything at home, which sounds about right to me," she said.
Mrs. Bush spotlighted Higgins Sales and Marketing, Inc., owned by Toledoan Virginia Higgins, who began a marketing firm and branched out into underground utility construction.
"I was honored that she chose to use us as an example of a woman-owned business," Ms. Higgins said, adding that she had a brief conversation with the First Lady before the event.
"I think the First Lady is just marvelous. It's so refreshing to hear a woman who shares the values of most Americans," said Nila Jennings, who is about to open a home furnishings and gift business in Lucas County. "It is so encouraging to listen to her quiet strength and her determination. You can have strength without having this screeching and this yelling that we hear on TV."
Following the First Lady's appearance yesterday in Toledo, Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a Democrat, held a press conference at her office with 10 Toledo business women "to talk about how business women in Toledo are suffering under this administration," she said.
In her presentation, Mrs. Wozniak noted that it is getting more difficult, not only for women, but also men in Toledo, to start their businesses because of the high cost of insurance.
"In Lucas County alone, we've lost about 9,400 jobs and you have to blame the current the administration for this situation," Mrs. Wozniak said.
Earlier yesterday, Mrs. Bush told a crowd of 300 doctors and health care workers in the Philadelphia suburb of Langhorne, Pa., that Democrats are raising false hopes in promoting the stem-cell use to cure illnesses.
"The embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now, and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right, and it's really not fair to the people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease," she said.
Staff writer Karamagi Rujumba contributed to this report.
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