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Originally published Saturday, March 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Bush takes to the road with Social Security sales pitch

President Bush continued to pitch his Social Security overhaul yesterday, undaunted by Democratic opposition, frayed Republican support...

WESTFIELD, N.J. — President Bush continued to pitch his Social Security overhaul yesterday, undaunted by Democratic opposition, frayed Republican support and less-than-enthusiastic backing from the public.

"I'm going to keep telling people we've got a problem until it sinks in, because we've got one," Bush said, underscoring estimates that say Social Security will begin paying out more than it collects in taxes as early as 2018.

Bush's visits to New Jersey and South Bend, Ind., began a two-month blitz in which he and other administration officials are visiting 29 states.

The stops yesterday were targeted specifically for Reps. Mike Ferguson of New Jersey and Chris Chocola of Indiana, two Republican congressmen who are taking heat on the issue.

Ferguson, who has not taken a position on the private accounts Bush wants, introduced the president, saying only that Bush has launched an "important national conversation." Chocola has said recent town meetings in his district left him willing to follow Bush's lead, although he talked of political problems surrounding the issue.

To counter Bush's nationwide swing, Democratic senators planned their own "fix it, don't nix it" forums in four cities over two days.

The Democratic National Committee also responded with radio advertisements in each market targeting Chocola and Ferguson, who have faced tough races in the past.

The ads accuse Bush of wanting to "end Social Security's guaranteed benefits" and tie them to the "ups and downs of the stock market."

Bush envisions no change for current retirees or workers age 55 and older. Under his plan, however, younger Americans could divert up to 4 percent of their income subject to Social Security taxes into personal accounts in exchange for a reduction in their guaranteed benefit.

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