Washington -- President Bush will make his sixth official visit to California next week and deliver a speech on the economy in recession-plagued Silicon Valley, which has lost more jobs than almost any other place in the country since he was elected.
Bush is scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area on Friday morning after a visit Thursday aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln returning to port in San Diego, where he is expected to give a triumphant address to sailors about the war in Iraq.
But the president will face a tougher audience at his half-day appearance in Santa Clara County, where he can expect angry protests from Bay Area anti- war groups and where he must sell a tax-cut package that is languishing on Capitol Hill.
The trip marks a rare visit by Bush to California, a state he lost to Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election by 1.3 million votes and where the Democratic Party has a lock on the Legislature and every statewide elected office.
President Bill Clinton, by contrast, visited the state 70 times in his two terms, averaging one trip every six weeks, often combining policy events with fund-raisers that generated millions of dollars for Democrats.
"We'll be there more" in the next year, a senior White House adviser told The Chronicle this week.
The president will deliver the Friday speech at a defense contractor in Santa Clara County, although the White House has not specified which firm. Bush is expected to spend half the speech talking about the war and homeland security, and the other half on "economic security" and improving a flagging economy. He is not expected to attend any party fund-raisers on this visit, state Republican officials said.
White House aides said Bush will repeat his call for tax cuts of at least $550 billion -- reduced from the president's original push for $726 billion in tax cuts, but more than the $350 billion approved by the Senate.
"The president's message continues to be to pass the largest economic growth package possible," said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius. "The larger that economic growth package is, the more the economy is going to grow."
Silicon Valley has been particularly hard hit by bad economic times, losing 191,000 jobs in the last 30 months and seeing the unemployment rate rise from 1.3 percent to 8.4 percent in the valley, and to higher than 10 percent in San Jose.
"In 30 months, we have gone from champagne to real pain," said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, a group of 190 CEOs. "And the more that the president can convey that he is not only concerned about that pain, but has solutions to put families back to work, the more his message will resonate here in Silicon Valley."
Bush's trip comes as his popularity has risen in California, largely because of the war. A Field Poll in early April found that 61 percent of Californians said they approved of the president's job performance, while 31 percent disapproved. Bay Area residents were less supportive, with 46 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving of his job performance.
But Bush faces a serious challenge in using his postwar popularity to help sell his economic growth plan in California because "the notion that the tax plan is an economic stimulus really hasn't resonated with the voters in this state," said Mark Baldassare, pollster with the Public Policy Institute of California.
"Californians are much happier with how the president has handled international issues than budget issues," Baldassare said. Still, "if the economy is in the same shape this year, that will be a major liability for Bush's re-election possibilities -- no matter what he's done on the war and homeland security."
Democrats hope they can change the topic from the war and national security -- Bush's strong points -- to the economy.
"Those unemployed people ought to greet him with resumes. Where is his (tax) package going to help them?" California Democratic Party chairman Art Torres said.
But Republicans dismiss the Democrats' complaints.
"What the president is proposing is probably needed here more than anywhere, " California Republican Party chairman Duf Sundheim said. "It will produce the stimulus we need and put money in people's pockets to reinvigorate the economy. "
Meanwhile, as word of the visit got out, anti-war groups began predicting passionate protests to mark the Bush visit.