updated 5/22/2004 11:35:21 AM ET 2004-05-22T15:35:21

President Bush said U.S. job growth was “running strong” as he worked to put a spotlight on the economy in a presidential election campaign that lately has been dominated by Iraq.

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In his weekly radio address, Bush listed statistics from several of the most hotly contested states in the Nov. 2 election to push his case that the economy is on the upswing.

Missouri, Michigan and Florida are seeing some of the biggest job gains in the country, he said. States such as Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, which have been hit hard by job losses in recent years, are making progress, Bush said.

The Republican president, who is facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and a tight race for re-election, touted the economy in a week when the release of more graphic photographs in the Iraq prison abuse scandal and other war-related developments have put him on the defensive.

Citing state-by-state jobs figures released on Friday by the Labor Department, Bush said, “These figures show that America’s jobs engine is running strong.”

As nervousness about Iraq has deepened, the news on the U.S. economy has been mostly positive, including a 288,000 nationwide gain in jobs for April.

But it is unclear how much headway Bush will be able to make on the improved jobs figures if the drumbeat of troubling news on Iraq keeps up.

Bush hits back on Iraq, oil
To ease worries in his own party about Iraq, Bush paid a visit to Capitol Hill last week and asked Republican lawmakers to “keep the faith.”

He will deliver an address on Monday evening in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in which he will outline his strategy for steering Iraq to self-rule on June 30.

Also, the president has been hit with criticism from Democrats over a jump in the price of gasoline this week to more than $2 a gallon -- a record.

Bush pointed out that his administration has established a hotline to which people can call to complain of price gouging. He also said he is sending Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham abroad to meet with oil producers.

Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has suggested Bush temporarily halt shipments to the emergency oil reserve as a way of easing some of the price pressures.

But Bush rejected that idea, saying the reserve is needed for an emergency such as a terror attack.

The president was staying at his Crawford, Texas, ranch over the weekend and was to attend celebrations for his twin daughters’ graduations on Saturday in Texas and Sunday in Connecticut.

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