By Bernie Becker - 07/06/12 04:55 PM EDT
President Obama called the latest jobs numbers “a step in the right direction” on Friday, even as the June figures showed a third consecutive month of sluggish growth.
Obama, speaking during a two-day campaign swing via bus through the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, acknowledged that the economy still had a ways to go and was not going to fully recover overnight.
The president, saying he wanted to return the middle class to the security they enjoyed in decades past, also firmly contrasted his policies with that of his presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, and declared that voters could help break the “stalemate” in Washington.
“We've got to deal with what's been happening over the last decade, last 15 years: manufacturing leaving our shores, incomes flat-lining,” Obama said. “All those things are what we've got to struggle and fight for.”
Obama’s comments came the same day that the Labor Department announced that the U.S. economy created 80,000 jobs in June, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.2 percent. Romney described the figures as a “kick to the gut” and blamed Obama’s policies for slowing the economy.
The economy has added an average of more than 200,000 jobs a month between January, February and March, as the country experienced a mild winter. But since then, job creation has plummeted, with between 68,000 and 80,000 jobs created in the last three months.
Striking a populist tone for a second consecutive day, Obama asserted the way to create a more secure middle-class was to build the economy from the bottom up — not the top-down approach that he said Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and other Republicans prefer.
The GOP, Obama said, not only wanted to allow the wealthiest to pay less in taxes, but also wanted to scrap regulations that he said would rein in Wall Street and stand in the way of the sort of financial crisis the country experienced in 2008.
And the president, traveling through the Rust Belt, continued to advertise his efforts to buck up the U.S. automobile industry, and the domestic manufacturing sector in general.
That work, he declared, was a stark contrast to Romney’s experience in the private equity sector, with Obama dubbing Romney’s Bain Capital the “pioneers” of outsourcing.
“That's his experience. My experience is working with workers and management to save the auto industry,” Obama said. “That's your choice. Because I'm going to fight for your jobs here in the United States.”
For his part, Romney, armed with a third consecutive lackluster jobs report, said the June numbers showed the president’s policies had failed to give the economy the spark it needed.
“This kick in the gut has got to end,” Romney said, temporarily breaking from a vacation in New Hampshire.
Other top Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), said the report showed that the private sector was not “doing fine,” as Obama had said during a recent news conference.
The president’s swing through Ohio and Pennsylvania, scheduled to wrap up Friday, underscores how crucial the two states are to both campaigns.
No Republican candidate has ever won the presidency without capturing Ohio, and the last president to take the Oval Office without winning the Buckeye State was John F. Kennedy more than a half-century ago.
And with this November’s election expected to be close, Obama could be hard-pressed to replace the 20 electoral votes that Pennsylvania, which has voted Democratic in the last five presidential campaigns, has to offer.
Both Obama and Romney are also likely to face hurdles as they try to sell voters on their economic vision.
Given Friday’s numbers, Obama, should he win a second term, is almost certain to have done so with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent president since the Great Depression.
But while the national unemployment rate is stuck at 8.2 percent, the rate is much lower in some key swing states. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the latest Labor Department numbers, have jobless rates below 7.5 percent.
With that in mind, Obama also used his Friday speech to talk up his healthcare law, and the recent deal that will extend current interest rates on student loans, while also declaring that he would push to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
He also suggested that wealthier taxpayers, like himself and Romney, can and should pay more in taxes to eat into runaway deficits, instead of cutting needed programs.
“I've talked to my accountant,” Obama said. “He said, ‘You can do a little more.’ And I sure know Mr. Romney can do a little more.”
And with the Romney campaign now saying it raised some $100 million in June, Obama also told his Ohio crowd to be prepared for a barrage of negative advertisements over the next four months.
“It is all right, because I'm tough,” Obama said. “I’m skinny but I’m tough.”