WASHINGTON — The state of the economy is a daily topic in the 2004 presidential contest, and when either President Bush or Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry don’t talk about it, their wives do.

On Monday, it was Teresa Heinz Kerry’s turn to highlight her husband’s economic platform, in a speech before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute meeting at the Washington Convention Center.

Among the economic themes Heinz Kerry touched on were her husband’s health care cost-reduction plan, which includes insurance tax breaks for small businesses of as much as 50 percent, trimming paperwork associated with health care claims and reimbursing businesses for 75 percent of the cost of catastrophic care at a savings of $1,000 per worker premium.

“It is a sad day in America when the needs of working families no longer matter, but the profits of health care companies do,” Heinz Kerry said, citing the average increase in health care insurance costs of $3,500 per worker since President Bush took office.

Heinz Kerry, wearing a bright red suit, covered a lot of ground in a 45-minute speech that included her reflections on being an immigrant from Mozambique. She also touched on another central Kerry campaign theme: the issue of companies moving operations abroad to save on labor and associated costs. Sen. Kerry proposes eliminating breaks allowing companies to delay paying taxes on overseas income until the money is repatriated and to lower taxes on U.S. companies by 1.75 percent.

“He will end the tax breaks that encourage American companies to move overseas with their jobs and he will reward companies that keep and create jobs here at home,” said Heinz Kerry, whose husband was across town speaking at the Thurgood Marshall Center on his plan to fight crime.

Meanwhile, First Lady Laura Bush took the day off from talking up her husband’s economic program, attending rallies instead in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as Indiana.

But President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, at a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa, talked a lot about their upbeat economic view.

The First Lady today is scheduled to renew the Bush economic message in an address before the Clintonville Women’s Club in Columbus, Ohio, another closely contested state.

This story first appeared in the September 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last week, Laura Bush talked about the economy at a rally in Duluth, Minn.

“Thanks to my husband’s tax relief and his leadership, we’ve added 1.7 million jobs since last August 2003,” she said, according to a transcript. “The national unemployment rate has fallen to 5.4 percent. Another really great statistic is that home ownership in the United States of America is at an all-time high.”