msnbc.com
updated 7/8/2004 4:00:11 PM ET 2004-07-08T20:00:11

Good, but not great is one way to characterize the employment data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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The direction is still positive for President Bush and his supporters, even if the 112,000 new jobs in June were fewer than most economists were expecting.

But the long-term picture is undeniably encouraging to Bush fans: Since last August, 1.5 million new jobs have been created.

Only three more monthly job reports will be issued before Election Day and Bush needs them to be good so as to buttress the evidence that economy is recovering.

Reminiscent of Clinton economy
At 5.6 percent, the unemployment rate — a somewhat forgotten key indicator of economic well-being — is just a tad below where it was in June of 1996 when Bill Clinton was headed to an easy re-election victory over Bob Dole. (We know, we know: Bush is no Clinton, a fact on which both Democrats and Republicans could agree.)

This week’s crop of national polls including the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday shows a close race: Bush draws 45 percent to Democrat John Kerry’s 44, making it a statistical tie as maverick Ralph Nader pulls in four percent.

Bush and Kerry show all the signs of being tied from now until Nov. 2 unless one of them does something dramatic. Picking a running mate that none of the “smart money” is betting on might transform the race.

This week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that more than one in five respondents are feeling decidedly neutral about Kerry.

Only four percent do not know who he is, which isn’t surprising considering the unprecedented early and heavy TV ad purchases by both his foes and supporters attempting to define him.

As his new ad in New Mexico (five electoral votes) showed this week, Kerry feels voters ought to know more about his masculine virtues: “He’s a husband and father. A pilot, a hunter, a hockey player,” the narrators tells viewers.

According to Democratic pollster Mark Penn, Bush enjoys an 11-percentage point lead among men and a 23-point lead among white men. Kerry's ad seems designed to help him gain ground among such voters.

And why is this ad airing in New Mexico? Lost in the furor over the 543-vote Bush margin in Florida in 2000 was the fact that Al Gore’s margin in New Mexico was the smallest of any state: 366 votes.

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