ATLANTA -- In the red dirt of a new housing development, President Bush fidgeted at the controls of a concrete mixer Monday and promoted a goal of helping 5.5 million black and Hispanic families buy homes before the end of the decade.
"There is a homeownership gap in America. The difference between Anglo-American and African-American and Hispanic homeownership is too big," Bush said.
While more than three-quarters of white American families own their homes, less than half the black and Hispanic families are homeowners.
"And we've got to focus the attention of this nation to address this, and it starts with setting a goal," Bush said at the St. Paul AME Church, where the predominantly black congregation has seen the neighborhood recently transformed by developers working in partnership with government.
Administration proposals to reach the president's new goal -- tax incentives for builders of affordable housing and government grants to help low-income families with down payments -- were announced this year and are pending in Congress.
With the election season heating up, however, Bush traveled to the formerly dilapidated neighborhoods on Atlanta's south side to spotlight this one piece of a domestic agenda that has been overshadowed in recent months by the war against terror and crises in the Middle East and the South Asian subcontinent.
In the strategy mapped out for the fall by Karl Rove, Bush's top political operative, outreach to black voters is high on the to-do list, under the heading "Improve." Labor union members fall under an outreach mandate Rove labeled "Grow," and Bush is addressing the Carpenters' Union national conference Wednesday.
National security link
Topping the messages Republicans are to use to their advantage as they battle for control of Congress are the war, the economy and Bush's "compassion agenda."
Bush seamlessly executed that strategy on Monday, even linking homeownership to national security.
"As we work on our security from possible attacks by terrorists, we also got to work on economic security. The two securities go hand in hand," he said.
"Part of being a secure America is to encourage home ownership, so somebody can say, 'This is my home. Welcome to my home.'"