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Bush and Kerry differ on state of economy
Updated: 2004-09-04 16:04

Good news, or bad? U.S. President Bush and Democrat John Kerry have differing takes about the vitality of the nation's job market — a question that's heating up this year's race for the White House.

Bush, who is campaigning Saturday in Ohio — a pivotal state that has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, says a new U.S. employment report offers positive news to voters worried about jobs.

Kerry, also in Ohio on the weekend before Labor Day, says job growth is nowhere near robust.

"The economy is strong and getting stronger," Bush said Friday in Iowa before flying to Ohio, where he was attending two rallies before moving on to Pennsylvania and back to the White House.

The president said 144,000 new jobs the Labor Department reports were created in August and nearly 60,000 more jobs in June and July than previously estimated are evidence of a rebounding economy.

Overall, he said, the U.S. economy has 1.7 million more jobs than it did in August 2003. However, even with the job gains over the past year, there are still 913,000 fewer workers on payrolls than when Bush took office.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in August, nearly 1 percentage point below the peak last summer, and lower than the average rate of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Bush noted.

Campaigning in Ohio on Friday, Kerry said the latest Labor Department report showing 144,000 new jobs created in August — slightly fewer than what had been projected by economists — was evidence of Bush's "record of failure" to create jobs.

In Newark, Ohio, Kerry heard from four people who said they recently lost their jobs and were worried about finding new ones and getting health care when they need it. "The president wants you to re-elect him. For what?" Kerry asked them. "Losing jobs?"

He said the newest numbers show the nation hasn't created nearly enough jobs to get the economy moving again.

Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, also hit on the loss of jobs at the start of a two-day bus tour through Wisconsin on Friday.

"The truth is, not enough jobs are being created to even take care of the new people going into the work force, much less the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs over the last several years," Edwards said in Green Bay.

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney sought to portray Kerry as a flip-flopper during a campaign swing through the West. "It's not only wildfires that shift with the wind," Cheney said Friday in Las Vegas.

Bush planned to talk in Ohio Saturday about "opportunity zones," an idea to use tax incentives to encourage private and public investment in poor neighborhoods across the nation.

He's to attend rallies in Cleveland, Lake County along Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio and Erie, Pa., before returning to Washington, completing his two-day, post-convention campaign trip.

Bush won Ohio's 20 electoral votes in 2000, as has every other Republican ever elected president. Voters in Ohio have voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1964. Bush won the state by 4 percentage points in 2000, but is vulnerable because the state has lost more than 200,000 jobs since he took office.

"The Bush campaign understands the importance of reaching out to undecided voters in central Ohio," said Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party.

Mauk said that at the GOP convention in New York, which closed on Thursday evening, the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, told Ohio delegates: "Whether you like it our not, Ohio is where it's at in this election."

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